Making drought decisions

Extension service offers forum to help ag producers

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— The ongoing drought in Colorado means area agriculture producers face tough decisions in the coming months on selling livestock, grazing, buying hay and supplementing feed.

Colorado State Cooperative Extension offices from Routt, Moffat, Grand and Jackson counties will present a forum next week that is aimed at helping ranchers make those decisions. The forum is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Olympian Hall.

"Basically, we want people to know where we are with the drought," Moffat County extension officer Ann Franklin said.

With one of the lowest snowpacks in memory this winter, experts say the state could suffer the worst drought in its recorded history. For ranchers, that means forage for livestock could run thin by the fall.

To avoid the high costs of feeding the animals by other means, some ranchers are selling off cattle already, Franklin said.

Dave Blackstone, a natural resource specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, said grazing already has been affected from the drought.

"Forage conditions are not as good as we hoped," Blackstone said.

The BLM manages 1.3 million acres of public land in Northwest Colorado, most of it used for livestock grazing by private ranchers. Blackstone said ranchers are going through their grazing rotations faster than normal.

"There hasn't been much growth on it and we do have some concerns. Not about grazing right now, but grazing through the fall," Blackstone said.

By fall, there may not be enough forage for livestock on the BLM land. That could force the amount of grazing allowed on the public spaces to be scaled back.

"We have had some people who have sold livestock in anticipation of that," he said.

On private land, Franklin said many ranchers prepare for such a situation by grazing less livestock on areas during normal conditions.

"It's kind of like putting money in the bank," she said.

However, even for the most prepared, there will be some impact for everyone if the drought is as bad as has been forecasted.

The drought also is detrimental to hay yields in the summer, Franklin said.

Many local agriculture producers depend on their hay yields to feed livestock through the winter. Other ranchers buy all their hay for the winter.

A hay shortage means ranchers will be forced to choose between paying exorbitant prices to feed through the winter or selling animals early.

Franklin said selling off cattle early could force ranchers to accept prices below market value. And selling off more animals than planned can reduce the quality of the breeding stock in the herd.

At the forum, Rod Sharp, agriculture and business management specialist, will talk about selling livestock versus buying hay.

Other issues connected to the drought to be covered include irrigation, grazing permits and alternative feeds.

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