CATTLE RELY ON ACCURATE FORECAST

by Chris Orr 2003 Rapid City Journal printed November 16, 2003

I enjoy cattle. No, perhaps I have a cattle fixation. A copy of The Stockman's Handbook and raising Beef Cattle are on my bookshelf. I've been a non-voting member of stockgrower and cattlemen's organizations for the better part of ten years. My work as a meteorologist is intertwined with farm and ranch weather. I read the bi-monthly magazines from the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and South Dakota Cattlemen's Association. News from R-CALF-USA finds its way into my e-mail almost every day. Pop culture Holstein salt and peppershakers, and "Got Milk?" posters have no place in our house. My kind of cattle are Herefords, Angus, Gelbvieh and the like. The only job I've had in the livestock business entailed pushing cows and bulls into buyer's pens at the stockyard. I liked that job. I'm probably destined to be a cattle hobbyist, like Lionel train enthusiasts who will never drive a diesel locomotive. Ranching runs on cycles. Calving season runs about 45 days at the end of winter and beginning of spring, when we get the last couple of heavy snows of the season. Summer is the time for haying, grazing on grass and breeding. During the fall, some of the calves and cows are culled for market, pastures are changed and extra feed is purchased. Winter brings more work on the ranch, bringing feed to the cows and watching their energy level. By late winter, the heifers are close to calving, and the cycle begins all over again. In many ways, winter preparation on the ranch has not changed much in the last 100 years. Getting to town is a whole lot easier, providing the plows are out. A blizzard can still isolate a ranch very quickly. Much of farming and ranching involves preparation for the next season, and weather plays a significant role in planning. Cows are much more efficient during the summer than winter. They can graze by themselves in the summer, but they don't like to move snow and ice around to find grass in the winter. Larry Reinhold of Lone Tree Ranch says that unlike cows, horses winter well. "Horses can run very well winter," says Reinhold. "They can paw the grass and get to it." Cows will go clump to clump, but won't make much of an effort to move snow around. Cows need a lot of energy to make it through the winter. When winter weather is at is worst, they will need to be fed extra corn for energy and alfalfa for protein. Reinhold says that spring rains were timely for growing grass, but that this year's hay crop is "a little better than half a crop." That means that Lone Tree Ranch will have to buy hay this year, as it did last winter. This is the third year, going into the fourth, of dry weather. Next summer's grazing and haying conditions will depend heavily on winter and spring precipitation. Another dry winter will make next summer tough on ranchers once again. Dry winter or not, it is time to prepare for it. Reinhold says the horses will fend for themselves but the cows need to be moved to taller grass pasture. He will monitor the weather forecasts and the cows, making certain that the Lone Tree Ranch inventory is sufficient to make it through the winter. Every other rancher will be doing the same thing because each calf, cow and bull is a product that they sell to make a living. It is an aspect of ranching that hasn't changed over the last 150 years and probably will never change.

Larry Reinhold