Montezuma County, cattle ranch

Goals/Strategic Objectives

  1. Short term: Develop a grazing plan that reduces reliance upon monsoons, reduces the transportation of cattle, and reduces the labor in fencing and water filling/hauling.
  2. Long term: Rehabilitate the infrastructure, fencing, irrigated pasture, and invasive species control on the ranch to support rotational grazing, drought-resistant irrigated pastures and dryland pasture health.
  3. Develop a budget and business plan from a disability and accessibility standpoint that evaluates different options with an eye towards an increasingly drier future.

Inventory

Average precipitation and variability:

  • Approximately an average of 12 inches of precipitation per year.
  • June is the lowest precipitation month at 0.32 inches of average precipitation; September is the highest at 1.13 inches of average precipitation.

Potential future conditions

  • Increased and prolonged drought with more weather and variability and severity when it does rain.
  • More variable, or absence of, monsoon season.

Strategies for increasing drought preparedness

  • Restore 120 acres of irrigated land, plant drought resistant grasses, plant fields with different grasses based on drought variability and water availability ranking system, & create cattle grazing only fields, hay only fields.
    • 1/3 of fields to be planted in 2023, 1/3 in 2024, 1/3 in 2025
  • Build and repair interior and perimeter fencing to implement rotational grazing, keep cattle out of irrigated pastures during sensitive times, and maximize use of available forage without overgrazing by 2026.
  • Identify supplemental pasture during August-November that is closer to the base property, requires less labor and transportation, and is less affected by variable monsoonal patterns by 2025.
    • Could include leasing neighboring pasture, joining a forest service permit, etc.
  • Research and develop an accessibility plan by 2025
    • Include looking into Agrability and NRCS funding for less mobility-dependent irrigation systems.

Timeline

2023:

  • Plant 1/3 of fields based on drought variability and water availability ranking system.

2024:

  • Plant 1/3 of fields based on drought variability and water availability ranking system.

2025:

  • Plant 1/3 of fields based on drought variability and water availability ranking system.
  • Have identified supplement pasture during August-November that is closer to base property, requires less labor and transportation, and is less affected by variable monsoonal patterns.
  • Have researched and developed an accessibility plan.

2026:

  • Have built and repaired interior and perimeter fencing.

Critical decision-making dates

Main Trigger Dates

April 1st: Cattle are gathered from winter range on the BLM lease which ends April 5th. While they are gathered, it is a good time to sort, separate, and sell. Use SNOTEL as the primary predictor of nearby reservoir levels for available surface irrigation water.

  • Based on Water Equivalent Levels as of April 5th:
    • Under 10 inches: Crisis level; sell down to essential base cattle. Sell replacement heifers, first-calf heifers, replacement bulls, yearling steers, feeder steers. Keep cattle over 5 years old; they are mature, use less resources than growing cattle, and are more likely to have healthy calves.
    • 10-15 inches: Normal drought; keep base herd intact. The closer to 10 inches the more replacement heifers will be sold off. Keep first-calf heifers.
    • Over 15 inches: Drought likely not an issue this year; keep all desired cattle. Look into buying short term feeder or stocker cattle or expanding infrastructure.

October 1st: Sale date for calves. All cattle are gathered, sorted, and evaluated.

  • Evaluate late fall and winter forage options in the area by using on-the-ground observations and the biomass feature in the Rangeland App.
    • Based on the Perennial Forb and Grass Biomass lbs/acre:
      • Under 6 lbs/acre: enact crisis drought protocol as listed above
      • 6-11 lbs/acre: enact normal drought protocol listed above
      • Over 11 lbs/acre: forage outlook is adequate,; drought not likely.
  • Use the US Drought Monitor and outlooks to predict fall and early winter forage and stocking rates.
  • Use the National Weather Service (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center to monitor if El Niño or La Niña patterns are presently predicted.

Smaller Trigger Dates

June 1st, July 1st, September 1st:

  • Use the National Weather Service (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center to monitor if El Niño or La Niña patterns are presently predicted. Plan accordingly.
  • Use the National Weather Service (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center to monitor predicted monsoons through seasonal precipitation outlooks.

Strategies for managing during drought

  • Work with AgWell to ensure mental health and stress management are continuously a priority.
  • Implement an irrigation schedule to reduce evaporation of water, prioritize the most productive fields and the first cutting to keep back winter hay. Irrigate with water-efficient methods first (i.e. side roll or sprinklers) before fields with flood irrigation.
  • Wildfire preparation: May 1st-October 1st
    • Monitor National Fire and Weather Outlook through the US Drought Monitor to plan pasture rotation with an eye towards evaluating whether cattle need to be moved to pastures that can be easily evacuated.
    • Keep the trailers empty, close to the cattle, and functional. If in extreme fire danger, keep the trucks hooked up and temporary corrals ready.
  • Use the US Drought Monitor and outlooks to predict fall and early winter forage and stocking rates.
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