Foothill Farming
University of California
Foothill Farming



Managing through a drought requires managing resource demand (forage and stock water) and resource demand (stocking rates).  Here are some strategies for adjusting stocking rates to reduce resource demand.

Managing Livestock During Drought

Early Weaning Beef Calves b-126

Drought strategies


Top 10 tips for drought (South Dakota)

Culling Strategies

Culling Strategies

This process should be given careful consideration as they are developed. I would encourage you to run your ideas by others to receive their input and perspective. You could have levels of culling that would be implemented as drought conditions worsen. Culling earlier rather than waiting things out reduces hay feeding costs, leaves more available forage for the remaining herd, and allows you sell in a more normal market.

 An example of culling strategies could in low forage years:

  • Cull any unbred (open) females
  • Cull any generally unproductive or animals with persistent health, eye, feet or bag problems.
  • Cull any hard to handle animals
  • Check teeth on older animals and cull those who are missing teeth and appear to be thin.
  • Cull any older animals you are trying to get one last baby out of as they most likely have a higher maintenance requirement.
  • Cull by not retaining replacement females or only a few
  • Cull by not retaining any stockers
  • Cull anything that does not fit your genetic program

 Another way to reduce demand is early weaning. Lactation increases nutrient demand by over 60%. Weaning would reduce stocking rate by transitioning from lactation to drying up. You would need to decide what to do with the calves. People I have talked with have immediately sold them rather than keeping them.

You could reduce demand by shipping animals to another part of the United States that does have forage. You would need to consider the trucking and monthly per head charge to determine if it could work for you or not.

 Other people deal with drought my developing long-term stocking rate decisions. One example would be someone that keeps stocking rate based on the worst forage production possible. This translates to figuring out what to do with extra forage in high rainfall years or not having to cull in bad years. Others might stock for the worst year plus an additional 10-20% so that only having to cull a little more gets demand in line with supply. The above is a sample list. You need to develop culling strategies that fit your operation.

 Hard to Cull Enterprises

You want to have enterprises that provide culling flexibility in drought-prone areas, which pretty much encompasses the west. Stockers offer more flexibility than cow-calf for example. One enterprise that makes culling decisions more difficult would be operations that primarily market breeding animals for sale to individuals.

Niche meat enterprises offer little flexibility in the face of drought. Your customers will stay loyal to you if you can provide them product. If you can not, they will move on to other people with product to sell

 Capital Considerations

Selling animals means a near-term cash surplus and a later term potential cash deficit. You should project a cash flow to make sure you can pay bills while preserving the excess capital. Another considerations would be tax consequences. There are a couple of options that you should discuss with your accountant. One would be deferring the excess sale income to the following year, or using the capital to purchase livestock once the drought ends to avoid paying capital gains taxes. Here are two links for more detailed information.:

NCBA Tax Document

Livestock Sales (RTE 2010-09)




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