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Managing Drought

No one can prevent or predict a drought but there are a lot of things we can do with our management to lessen the effects of drought.

Drought will impact our people, our land and our finances. All are equally important and our drought strategy must cover all three areas.

People

A great starting point is to recognize that drought impacts people showing up as discouragement, withdrawal, anger, depression, drinking and drugs. Once we recognize that we need to deal with it in a positive manner.

Don’t blame yourself.

Choose to be positive. Every drought in history ended with a rain. Let me offer you a guarantee: every morning you are one day closer to a rain. That’s a pretty good reason to be optimistic.

Create a climate in which you and your family can freely express feelings and emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling down or depressed. The question is how you will help each other deal with these feelings and emotions in a positive manner?

If you are suffering from serious depression get medical help. Depression is an illness. Getting medical help for it is no different than getting medical help for a broken leg.

Associate with positive like-minded people. Share your concerns. Let people help you. Draw from each other’s strengths.

Remember, life’s trials are not meant to break us but to make us.

Land

The most visible sign of drought is reduced growth. Here are some ideas to consider:

Combine your herds.

Slow down and increase your recovery time.

As you reduce the number of herds (one is ideal) you increase your stock density, reduce your workload, increase the number of pastures available and increase the recovery time. It is vital to increase recovery time. Plants require a longer recovery time when conditions are poor and growth is slow.

Temporary fencing is a real benefit in a drought.

Supplemental feed may or may not be a wise choice. It is an individual decision. If you choose to supplement, start early. Don’t graze until the grass is gone then stay a day or two longer by using supplemental feed. This will increase the recovery time for all remaining pastures.

Understand the difference between severe grazing and overgrazing. Severe grazing is determined by how much residual is left in the pasture when the animals leave. The ideal is to leave as much as possible. But in a drought severe grazing may be necessary to increase the recovery period.

If there is no growth you can’t overgraze. As a friend of mine once said “you can’t kill a dead man.” Overgrazing is grazing a plant a second time before it has recovered from the first grazing. This occurs when the recovery period is too short.

In a drought you need a plan. Don’t rely on gut reaction. All of us have some idea of how much residual we would like to leave when we move our animals. If we move on this basis during a drought we will move quicker as there is less growth. This means we will be reducing the recovery time when we should be increasing it. The only way to increase the recovery time is to graze more severely.

The final response in a drought is to destock. Once again this is a personal decision. If you decide to destock, the sooner you make your decision the fewer animals you will have to sell.

If there is no rain there is no growth. However we almost always receive some rain and some growth.

A good grazing plan especially one with frequent moves, temporary fencing and high stock density can go a long ways in mitigating the effects of a drought. Use your knowledge and the tools that are available. I think you will be pleased with the results.

There will be some areas that won’t be hit by drought this year. Hopefully this will be your place and most of Western Canada. If it is, I challenge you to use the “good year” to improve your water cycle. If you choose to do this you will be more drought resistant the next time drought strikes your area.

Most of us when blessed with good growing conditions immediately think of making hay or increasing our numbers. A better response might be to invest this extra growth in biological capital. Leave a percentage of the growth on the land. When this extra growth is trampled down it covers the bare ground and begins to improve your water cycle. An improved water cycle will go a long ways to increasing drought resistance.

Finances

A drought will likely mean a shorter grazing season, higher feed costs and financial pressure. Here are some ideas for dealing with this situation:

Focus on cash flow not net worth. We need to be able to cash flow our business to stay in business.Net worth is really only an issue when we choose to sell out.

Assess your personal comfort level with debt. Don’t take on more than you can handle either from a cash flow basis or a stress basis.

Do a financial plan. Assess how much debt you may require, how you will make the payments and what is happening to your net worth.

Develop a good relationship with your lender. Be open and honest.

I hope you have a good year with no drought. I encourage you to drought-proof your ranch. The best time to prepare for drought is during a good year.

Happy Trails.

Don Campbell ranches with his family at Meadow Lake, Sask. He can be reached at 306-236-6088.

About the author

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Don Campbell

Don Campbell ranches with his family at Meadow Lake, Sask., 
and teaches Holistic Management courses.

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