Lightning can make the effects of drought even worse. Here is a photo of the Padlock Ranch after a fire caused by a lightning strike.
If there are any lessons that can be learned from the past few years of sparse rainfall it’s that recovering from drought requires proper management.
"I think the biggest thing we’re doing is trying to have good programs going forward, and specifically with the grazing programs," said Trey Patterson, chief operations officer of the Padlock Ranch Company based out of Ranchester, Wyo.
Patterson spoke at the 10th Annual Holt Cat Symposium on Excellence in Ranch Management in Kingsville, Texas last month about the topic of "Recovering the Ranch After Drought."
On the Padlock Ranch, Patterson said, "We put a lot of emphasis on creating periods of rest so the pastures can recover from grazing and drought."
Changing the timing and duration of grazing allows for better development of the root systems and that can mitigate the effects of drought in the future, related Patterson.
Drought also causes a lot of stress, not just for the land and the cattle, but on the people who are the caretakers of those resources.
"Drought causes stress on human beings and it gets you down," said Patterson. "A person who is stressed and down emotionally, it affects you mentally and physically. It’s going to tremendously hamper your ability to respond and make wise decisions to work your way out of the drought."
During the early part of the 2000s the Padlock Ranch went through a period of drought that preceded last year’s drought in southern Montana and northern Wyoming, where the ranch is located. The first drought was harsher and forced the ranch to liquidate some of the cowherd.
The most recent period of low moisture during 2012 didn’t have the overwhelming impact that it did in much of the U.S., but fire was a major dilemma that resulted from the drought at the Padlock Ranch.
"We get these dry lightning storms in the late summer that come over the Rocky Mountains. If it is dry they will absolutely torch a lot of country," added Patterson. "Last year we had a tremendous fire situation. In one event we had 7 different fires that together burned out 75,000 acres in one unit, and it wasn’t the only fire we had during the year."
Cows were standing on black, scorched earth with no available feed.