Equipping Ranchers to Adapt to Drought in North Dakota

Over the past two years, summers have been especially tough for North Dakota ranchers. The bulk of the water needed for livestock comes from surface water, and low rainfall totals in 2017 drastically decreased surface waters, leaving ranchers looking for new solutions to keep their herd hydrated. Luckily, many parts of the state went into 2017 with adequate soil moisture levels so even with reduced rainfall, many livestock producers had marginal forage production.  According to NDSU Extension Livestock specialist John Dhuyvetter, this year might be a different story.

Calf in yard

Photo by the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

To date, 2018 has had very low soil moisture levels and while some parts of the state have gotten the rain they need this spring, parts of North West and North Central North Dakota haven’t seen any measurable rain. This could make 2018 even more challenging.  Hydration remains a concern and forage production is down, creating grazing readiness issues for many.  Combined with nitrate, sulfate and cyanobacteria contamination that continues to threaten the water that is available for others, this summer has its fair share of problems to tackle.

To help combat this issue, Dhuyvetter and his team are providing water testing to help livestock producers determine if a water source is suitable for cattle. He also is conducting educational programming to ensure ranchers are educated about common threats to water and how to react to them.  The programming also aims to educate ranchers on having the resources they need to manage during drought conditions, much like those seen last year.

This summer, similar to years past, Dhuyvetter is hosting routine conference calls with agency staff and Extension professionals throughout the state.  The calls allow Dhuyvetter and his team to understand conditions throughout the state and provide information on drought programming and resources, including what to do during emergencies, ration information, and more.

Dhuyvetter is also working with staff at the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center in Streeter who will be hosting their annual field day this July. This year’s event will focus on water systems for livestock producers and will overview the latest technologies, such as solar well pumps, that can help ranchers adapt in the face of drought.

“These technologies are expensive up-front, but in the long-term they make sense. Some people haul water and they will try that maybe once or twice, but they often decide it’s too hard and a sustainable solution becomes a priority. These infrastructure advances can be a solution for a lot of people,” notes Dhuyvetter.

For Dhuyvetter, no matter the programming, his main goal stays the same: ensuring ranchers have healthy, productive livestock, and that all starts with “figuring out how to capture all your moisture and use it.”

John Dhuyvetter – North Dakota State University

John DhuyvetterJohn Dhuyvetter is an Extension Area Livestock Systems Specialist at North Dakota State University. Dhuyvetter joined NDSU in 1978 as Barnes county agent, later becoming Burke county agent and progressing to Mountrail county agent in 1984. He also served as Director of Research and Performance Programs for the American Salers Association from 1987 until he rejoined NDSU. He has a B.S. in Animal Science from NDSU and an M.S. in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University.

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