La Plata County, cattle ranch

Goals/Strategic Objectives

  1. Rehabilitate Pastures: Diversify, improve cover and reduce invasive species. Transition a portion of properties currently in annual forage production to diverse, permanent cover for rotational grazing and wildlife habitat.
  2. Improve Infrastructure: Improve fencing to more effectively rotate through pastures and protect rehabilitated areas (explore virtual fencing options). Increase availability of stock water on properties, improve existing watering locations to reduce high use impact and repair out-of-service water supply. Improve delivery methods and irrigation efficiency for irrigated properties.
  3. Increase Amount of Owned Property: Phase out poor-performing leases or properties that do not have a long-term lease. Make long-term investments on owned property.
  4. Increase Cattle Herd: Over next 5-10 years, increase herd size to maximum carrying capacity as conditions allow.

Inventory

  • Average precipitation and variability: Precipitation November thru May determines available soil moisture for fall planting; June thru October precipitation determines success of fall planted crops and available moisture for spring planting. Frequency of windy spring days can also have a negative effect on fall-planted Triticale growth.
  • Land: Approximately 1950 acres leased land, 70 acres owned.
    • 100 acres used for grass hay forage production, 208 acres in annual forage production, and 240 acres currently in annual forage production. Transitioning to permanent cover for grazing.
  • 1320 rotational pastures spread over multiple properties (40-300 acre parcels).
  • 2024 cattle inventory: 36 bred cows, 2 bulls, 5 yearlings for butcher, and 12 replacement heifers.
  • Stock water: Multiple wells, portable stock tanks, water truck with 1600 gal tank and municipal water source for hauling water at $25 per 1000 gallons or local spring at $200 per year.

 

Potential future conditions

Strategies for increasing drought preparedness

  • Develop a grazing plan: Utilize all available properties, reduce cattle transportation time/cost, and take advantage of stock water availability. (March 2023)
  • Develop a rehabilitation plan: Rank properties according to available forage and infrastructure, allow for properties to be kept in reserve on a rotational basis. Develop a cost assessment for rehabilitation. (2023)
  • Acquire equipment that will aid in conservation tillage practices to retain moisture, improve soil health, and help meet long-term goals (2023-2026)
    • Soil moisture meters from STAR+ program
    • Grain drill for cover crop seeding
    • Subsoiler for reduced tillage
    • Livestock trailer
  • Continue to build relationships with and understanding of conservation groups, USDA/FSA programs, and other available resources to both improve regional drought resilience and to assist other landowners and managers with practices. (Ongoing)

Timeline

Critical decision-making dates

  • March 15th: Use SNOTEL as the primary predictor of irrigation water and stock water availability.
    • If less than 12″ snow water equivalent in the basin by mid-March, plan for no or reduced fertilizer on perennial forage pastures.
    • Depending on the rate of melt, plan for reduced or no forage crop from perennial pastures, reduced forage for grazing, and reduced livestock water supply.
    • Determine location for calving based on long-term forecast, spring forage availability, shelter, and livestock water.
  • Early March to mid April: Plan spring annual forage crop planting.
  • May: Evaluate growing fall-planted annual crops, determine best-use (grazing or harvested forage) based on growth rate and expected harvest.
  • June 1st: If harvest will be below expectations or lost due to drought, file claim through NAP for Triticale forage.
  • August 1st: Plan for winter hay needs based on hay harvest and available winter forage. Evaluate the cost of hay purchase vs selling cows.
  • August 15th: If soil moisture is sufficient, plant all annual forage crops. If soil moisture is insufficient, review September long-term forecast and plan planting accordingly.
  • October 15th: If moisture is insufficient, consider delaying planting until spring. Last chance of successful fall planting is approximately October 30th.
  • Late October: Evaluate forage residue, allowing 30 pounds per animal per day for approximately five moths.
    • Determine rotational grazing schedule for winter based on available forage and location of supplemental feed sources.
    • Determine forage availability for overwintering replacement heifers and beef steers.
    • Determine how many calves will be sold.

Strategies for managing during drought

  • Change rotation schedule: Use reserve pastures, move herd to feedlot area or feed on annual crop pasture to reduce impact on perennial pastures.
  • Additional feed sources: Lease other pastures and/or supplement grazing with liquid protein, cake, or hay.
  • Consider early weaning: Base sale date on available feed, calf weights, and calf market conditions. Consider other sale options for calves and evaluate associated costs.
  • Evaluate cost of feeding hay vs reducing herd on a year-to-year basis.
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