It is possible to give the grass too much rest. Alexander found this out using a 150 square foot exclusion cage with four years of rest to see how long too much rest is, although this varies. "The preferred species plants were definitely reduced in their vigor because of so much ground cover from the cheat," he says. "The forbs, the sage wort and the ragweed were prolific."
However, stocking rates shouldn't be adjusted mid-summer. "Typically, people don't react to something unless it's a crisis," he says. "Developing the plan and sticking to it before we get into a crisis is important." With drought, Alexander has adjusted his stocking rates accordingly, starting each of the past couple years de-stocked by 48%, based on data from previous years. If rainfall improves, he would gradually increase rates by 15 to 20% per year. "That's why it's important to keep track of the rainfall, so you know how much you're going to get during the growing season," he says. "If you want to manage, you've got to measure."
Alexander has also helped other ranchers and farmers restore native prairie through the Comanche Pool Prairie Resources Foundation. The organization has helped restore over 5,000 acres of marginal farmland to native rangeland and remove eastern red cedars through a $2.5 million National Fish and Wildlife Federation grant. "From about the Pratt-Barber County line to the Oklahoma state line, we've got over 100,000 acres that are now well-managed," he says. "Did I cause it? No, but I think I've had some influence."
Another key part of a drought plan: water availability
Another important part of a drought management plan is having water available for cattle. In Alexander's region in western Barber County, where annual rainfall is averaging 18 to 22 inches, a reliable source of surface water is not always easy to find. "I have built nine ponds. If I had to build it over, I would just build two ponds," he says. "Instead of the other seven ponds I built, I could have a pipeline system over the whole ranch."