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– A Kansas rancher moves his cattle off of cropland which was being grazed due to a lack of water and vegetation on winter rangeland.   Ciji

The last two years of extreme temperatures and lack of rainfall caught many ranchers off guard, according to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service experts. With predictions of continuing drought for many states, ranchers are working to prepare their ranches for extreme weather.

“We had major droughts in the 30s and 50s, but many of the operators this generation haven’t seen or experienced a drought like this,” NRCS Kansas State Rangeland Management Specialist David Kraft said.

These are uncharted waters for a lot of landowners, and it has been a steep learning curve, he added, but many ranchers are seeking NRCS assistance and knowledge.

Conservation specialists help ranchers gain a better understanding of forage inventory, the direct correlation of rain and production of forage, and assist them in creating drought and contingency plans.

“The amount and timing of precipitation dictates the amount of forage produced. If vegetation hasn’t grown by a certain date, it won’t grow, and decisions to keep the remaining plants healthy for your livestock need to be made quickly. This is why a drought plan is so valuable,” Kraft said.

A drought plan should help minimize financial hardships and speed up vegetation recovery after drought. It is important for a plan to identify actions to be taken at the first sign of drought.

“Deciding on these actions ahead of time will better prepare you when, and if, the time requires you to act. The idea here is to be a manager of action not reaction,” Kraft said.

Several ranchers who activated their drought plan last year were able to improve their rangeland or recover faster than those who didn’t have a plan.

“Typically ranchers have been good with management and grazing systems in average precipitation years. However, we really need to get a good handle on managing in extreme weather because it is becoming more common and could even become the average or norm,” Kraft said.

For more information or assistance on drought, visit your local NRCS field office.