The University of Arizona

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


On the Ground
• 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
• 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.

Keywords: ranching, adaptive management, climate
change, reducing risk, Climate Hubs.

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