“One of the starting points is to get a good inventory of how much forage you currently have standing in the pasture,” McCollum says. “That will be the forage supply you have to work with right now.”

Then, adjust numbers with the idea that in order to have a chance to recover if it does rain, you need to have some amount of plant residue to cover the ground and capture rainfall.

“By making those adjustments, determining how much you need to leave on the ground and allocating the rest for cattle grazing, you have provided yourself some insurance that when it does begin to rain, you can capture part of that and start the recovery in terms of forage production. It also gives you a somewhat realistic picture of what kind of cattle numbers you can support in the event that it doesn’t rain or if it does rain, it’s not timely and you don’t produce any forage,” McCollum says  

After the rains

When the drought breaks – and it will sooner or later – that’s when cattlemen need to start managing for the next drought, Hart says. “You’ve got to have contingency plans in place before a drought hits and have some areas you’ve held back.”

That’s because nothing replaces rainfall. “Without rainfall, there’s no miracle cure to get grass to grow. How fast range plants recover following a drought is in direct relationship with what kind of condition they were in going into the drought. So, if you want to essentially minimize the length of the drought, make sure those plants are healthy, that you’re pulling off in time to where the recovery process is that much faster,” Hart says.