Weld County, cattle ranch

Goals/Strategic Objectives

  1. Increase Vegetation Diversity and Production: Develop and start implementing a grazing plan as a “grass farmer” to sustain grass, balance cool and warm season grasses, increase shrubs, and reduce weeds over the course of the next ten years.
  2. Upgrade Infrastructure to Support Grazing: Replace aging fence lines and install additional cross fencing to split pastures and increase grazing flexibility, starting with one mile per year.
  3. Reduce Stress and Uncertainty During Drought: Reduce the emotional impact of drought by developing a plan for responding as signs of excess stress emerge.

Inventory

Average precipitation and variability:

  • 30-year normals of 13.5 inches in rainfall annually.
  • May is the wettest month with ~2.5 inches of precipitation. Within the last five years, May has also been the highest month.
  • June rainfall has historically been closely tied with July as the second highest rainfall month (1.9 inches). Within the last 5 years, it has only averaged 1.3 inches.
  • Regularly monitors rainfall through CoCORaHs.

Mix of cool-season pastures, CRP, and warm-season pastures.

Potential future conditions

Warmer temperatures, causing worse drought conditions with more erratic rainfall.

Strategies for increasing drought preparedness

  • Extend networks to continue learning about drought, grazing management, and available resources through local partnerships, neighbors, family members, and attending a local training session.
  • Proactively adapt to drought by utilizing forecasts, rainfall, GrassCast, and Pacific Oscillation data to inform strategies for drought preparedness.
  • Manage herd for drought; continue transition to smaller cattle, calve later in spring to reduce loss, and increase available grass.
  • Implement a rotational grazing program for pasture rest to increase forage productivity, vegetation diversity, and to establish a grass bank for extreme drought conditions.
  • Increase water availability for grazing flexibility through EQIP programs and other cost-share initiatives.

Timeline

Critical decision-making dates

  • December: Cull old and open cows after pregnancy check, according to past year performance and long-term forecasts.
  • March 1st: Review rain forecasts for predicted precipitation for the upcoming spring (May). If drought is predicted, reduce stocking to average drought levels.
  • June 1st: Review rainfall predictions and compare photos from monitoring to assess for summer growth. If present accumulated rainfall on the ranch is below 50% of 5.04 inches normal (January thru May), cut second-round of cows (unfit, didn’t calve, lost calf, and older cows).
  • August 1st: Plan for winter hay needs based on personal hay harvest.
  • October 1st: At weaning, conduct grass clippings to estimate forage residue, allowing 30 pounds per animal per day for approximately six months. Then determine if third-round culling (milk production, calf health, mouth) is needed based on residue and hay availability. Consider fourth-round culling of oldest cows on-field to match available forage (range plus raised/purchased hay).

Strategies for managing during drought

  • Continue photo monitoring to check-in on changing conditions and to track long-term range trends.
  • Continue journaling and sharing with family to reduce pressure and isolation and to nurture support.
  • Pursue opportunities for mentorship with Ranching for Profit to establish support networks and incorporate novel tools for ranch management.
  • Connect with AgWell for external support and counseling resources.
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