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Seasonal Weather-Related Decision Making for Cattle Production in the Northern Great Plains

Justin L. Reeves, Justin D. Derner, Matt A. Sanderson, Scott L. Kronberg, John R. Hendrickson, Lance T. Vermeire, Mark K. Petersen, J. Gonzalo Irisarri
Rangelands 2015 v.37 no.3 pp. 119-124
air temperature, autumn, beef cattle, climate, cow-calf operations, data collection, decision making, forage, forage production, grazing, growing season, models, rain, ranchers, rangelands, seasonal variation, snow, spring, stocking rate, summer, winter, yearlings, Great Plains region, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming
Ranching is a challenging and sometimes risky business, with cattle production (and associated enterprise income) largely being dependent on seasonal weather patterns and corresponding forage production. To help reduce this risk, the USDA–Agricultural Research Service performed a multistate study of seasonal weather effects on cattle production across the Northern Great Plains (Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana). Cool, wet springs and longer, cooler growing seasons increased cattle production across the Northern Great Plains. Knowledge of these seasonal weather influences on cattle production is important for management decision making, but practical application of this knowledge remains problematic. Increased enterprise flexibility to deal with variable forage production can be achieved by using seasonal weather forecasts, as well as reducing base cow-calf herd numbers to less than 100% of typical ranch carrying capacity. Yearlings or seasonal contract grazing can then be used to increase grazing to use additional forage in good years. Recently launched USDA Regional Climate Hubs will deliver science-based knowledge, practical information, management and conservation strategies, and decision tools to ranchers that will help them adapt to weather variability and changing climatic conditions.