Ranching with Risk: What Does the Weather Say?

US - Ranchers in the northern plains could optimise stocking density and maximise calf development by learning from decades of weather research.
calendar icon 22 October 2014
clock icon 2 minute read

US Department of Agriculture researchers have said long term analysis could offer long term answers as to how management can adapt to increasingly variable weather.

A Cheyenne study, reviewed as part of the Agricultural Research Service analysis, found that around two thirds of variability in Hereford performance was attributable to seasonal weather flux.

The 1975 to 2012 data revealed that Red Angus crosses are, in contrast, less sensitive to seasonal weather changes.

The ability to look forward, possibly 10 to 40 years, could help reduce risk from poor weather and assist producers in capitalising from good weather.

The USDA added that beef production rose following cool wet springs and warm wet summers if stocking rates were high enough.

However, low stocking rates, due to their resilience in poor years showed little benefit as cattle frequently had adequate grazing anyhow.

A Montana study also shed light on productivity, discovering two crucial periods in calf development.

Mid-February and Mid-summer had a profound effect on birth weights and weaning weights.

Specifically, every one tenth of an inch of precipitation between 8 and 22 February caused gestating cows to lose condition and result in 3.4 pounds of weight lost.

Come summer, the period 23 June to 7 July cost 1.1 pounds of weight gain for every one degree Fahrenheit increase due to reduced forage digestibility and Nitrogen.

Plant senescence was blamed as most plants have reached the mature stage by this point.

As to the studies values for forecasting livestock production and management, ARS ecologist Justin Reeves said they were an ‘invaluable resource’.

“ARS scientists had incredible foresight to keep collecting consistent data for so long,” he added.

ARS rangeland management specialist Justin Derner said the retrospective data can help look forward.

“Our retrospective look at weather variables that have influenced production may begin to help us make projections 10 to 40 years out.”

“This could help cattle producers think about ways they can adapt their production systems to prepare for the impacts of increasing weather variability.”

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms

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