Dr. Jeff Mosley, MSU Extension, talked to a packed room in the Grazing Management; Decisions After Severe Drought workshop at the MFBF Convention in Billings last week. In his presentation, Mosley explained that drought is an inevitable part of normal climate fluctuations in the semi-arid rangeland that exists in Montana.

"The severe drought in 2021 makes it necessary to adjust grazing management not only for 2022 but into 2023, especially for pastures that will be grazed in spring and early summer of 2022 or 2023,”

Mosley said. “Abnormal conditions require abnormal management.”

Mosely's advice? With a very minimal chance of any grass carryover for spring 2022, turnout on pastures should be delayed even if it rains. It's essential to let the grass get ahead of the livestock, if at all possible.

He cautioned against the harmful results of drought in the spring and early summer of 2022: grass tetany and poisonous plants. 

“Many poisonous plants are early season forbs that weren’t harmed by the drought,” he said. “They will grow well early in 2022 while grass growth is slow, making up a larger portion of the available forage. Remember, the poison is in the dose.”

He noted that because of the reduction of forage in 2021, total standing forage will be less than normal until the seed is set for 2023; therefore, plan a lower stocking rate in 2022.

"Reduce stocking rates by grazing fewer livestock over the same amount of time, or the same number of livestock over a shorter amount of time," the extension range management specialist shared.

Ranchers can estimate how much forage they will have by determining spring precipitation using different mathematical equations: looking back over the past 30 years of moisture in April, May and June; looking at moisture from September 1 through June 30 over the same 30 years, or a combination of the two.

"Keep in mind that 90 percent of the forage will grow before July 1," he added. 

His advice to all the ranchers was to say you can, instead of can’t, and keep a positive attitude.