As humans, we often like to try and compare things to average or normal.   Was the precipitation received within the expected normal range?  Were temperatures for a particular season outside of normal? Was our pasture or hay production in the range we consider normal?

Taking this time to look back on last year is beneficial, but resist the temptation to compare things to normal.  Very rarely, do things in the ever-changing world of agriculture really meet average or normal. 

Depending on where you, live last year may have been too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet.  Nature is never static.  If it were, our job as producers would be much easier.  As it is, we lay out our plans then inevitably have to adapt as Mother Nature throws one curveball after another our way. 

Some of you may have planted a winter annual forage to graze this spring. If so, manage grazing so there is not the temptation to begin grazing perennial grass pastures too early this spring.  This will help give stressed pastures from dry weather last year some additional rest. You might also consider frost-seeding legumes, such as red clover, in February through mid-March to boost the yield and improve the quality without adding additional nitrogen fertilizer.

When did your pastures run out? Was it mid-summer? late-summer? or fall? Remember that you have plenty of annual forage options to fill any gaps – there are few common ones that can be very productive. Forages like sudangrass and pearl millet can be planted from June until September and used to fill summer and fall forage gaps. Oats and turnip mixtures can be planted as early as mid-August and used to fill late-fall forage gaps. Plant and use these annual forages when your other pastures have slow growth and are stressed so you have plenty of grazing for your cattle. Your regular pastures will bounce back quicker as well.

Several of you may have taken an extra cutting of alfalfa late in the fall if extra feed was needed. Late cuttings are often higher quality, so it may be sold for a premium price or used for special feeding situations. This coming spring, though, alfalfa grow may start off a little slower. If so, let it begin to bloom before cutting.

Finally, take time now to drag out the new calendar and start planning ahead for 2024.  We can be sure to purchase inputs like seed or fertilizer well ahead of when we need them, so we aren’t scrambling at the last minute later on. We can get an idea of what grazing rotations or harvest schedules will look like.  Will we need to make changes later to adjust to the actual conditions? Of course!  But having it laid out now prevents important dates from sneaking up on us and provides a reminder to assess things as we get near.

Producers work in a dynamic system that seldom repeats itself.  In doing so, we learn to be adaptive, to build resilience into our production and planning, and try to spread our eggs out amongst several different baskets.  When you take time to look back this year on the challenges and successes, try to see where adapting to a problem worked or how a bit more flexibility next year could keep an issue from arising.  Leave the normal and average comparisons out.

-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce.  He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington.  You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: