Last updated on October 4th, 2022 at 01:37 pm

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Drought forces tough decisions. Taking a measured approach is the best medicine to surviving.

Drought is again gripping much of cow country and once again, tough decisions will have to be made. Depending on last fall’s precipitation and winter snows, those tough decisions may already be knocking.

But cutting costs just for the sake of cost-cutting may not be the best way to handle drought-driven decisions, says Ashley Kettner, R&D research coordinator with Riomax®.

So, where should you cut ranch costs and where should you spend a little?

A 2009 survey by Montana State University of 10 ranchers in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico revealed some thought-provoking answers to that question. The individual responses to the question were as follows:

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The top 4 places to save money during drought on your ranch:

  • Sell cows above 1,350 lbs.
  • Earlier preg checking and culling
  • Sort by body condition score and feed accordingly
  • Sell more heifers rather than keeping replacements

Don't make the mistake to cut ranch costs in these areas:

  • Protein, mineral, and vaccines
  • Animal ID
  • Keep good ranch help
  • Spend time and money extending the life of equipment





In hoeing down the responses, Dr. John Paterson, then the Extension beef specialist at Montana State, gave a brief summary of the best spots to spend and save on a ranch.

The 5 most important places to cut costs were:

  • Cut hay waste
  • Feed more crop residue such as straw
  • Weigh and sort cows
  • Body condition score and sort the herd
  • Supplement wisely based of forage analysis

5 places where spending a little is a good idea:

  • Mineral supplementation, specifically phosphorus, copper, zinc, and selenium
  • Forage analysis
  • Preg testing
  • Implants/ionophores
  • Herd biosecurity

To that list, Kettner would add genetics. “Even as you’re considering culling deeper into your cow herd and selling more of your heifer calves, don’t your genetics go to town as well, so to speak. You’ve spent years getting your genetics where you want them. Don’t let that be another drought victim.”

By that, she means to avoid “buying down” on your bulls. In other words, don’t buy a cheaper bull just because he’s cheaper. If a bull’s EPDs aren’t where you want them to be, pass him by. Bid and buy only the bulls that will keep your hard-earned genetics intact.

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