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Drought and Livestock

When drought occurs, cattle ranchers must decide how best to manage their herds to avoid economic losses. Drought can cause the price of grain to spike, making it too expensive to buy. This kind of price hike can force ranchers into a series of critical decisions about reducing herd sizes, sending cattle to feedlots, leasing additional pasture, or purchasing feed (hay or grain). U.S. cattle ranchers use the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) maps and comparisons to help weigh the cost of these decisions, which can directly affect the success of their operations.

The USDM is a weekly composite drought map and narrative summary that classifies current drought conditions nationwide. The USDM is created through a partnership between the Department of Commerce, NCEI, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC), the USDA, and the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC).

NCEI supports the USDM with analysis and weather data that are used to create weekly drought designations that describe conditions across the country. The USDM consolidates information from drought indicators, climate and hydrological data, soil measurements, models, and local observations into an essential tool for natural resource management. Our scientists also provide analysis that forms the narrative summary portion of each designation into an essential tool for natural resource management.

Case Study

Read our Value of the Data story for more information about the USDM, and the long-term effects of drought on the U.S. cattle ranching industry.