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Researchers developed a ranch model that incorporates economic theory and climate variability information in rangeland management decisions. Ranchers, cattle, and precipitation are modeled as interactive resources which jointly determine the aggregated size of the herd given varying climate conditions, such as those that may occur in El Niño and La Niña years.
To inform the development of the model, researchers collected data on cattle characteristics for a Registered Hereford Herd owned and maintained by the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the 1,000-year tree-ring reconstructions of cool season precipitation for Arizona Climate Division No. 4, and the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) data for Arizona precipitation. These sources provided the ranching model with the range of climate conditions considered for rangeland and herd management.
Additionally, as part of this project, researchers provided a series of climate risk management extension education classes to private and Native American livestock managers using a mobile computer laboratory. CLIMAS investigators presented participants with information about paleoclimate data, ENSO and Pacific Decadal Variability, as well as regional climate outlooks. This information was incorporated into a Planning for Profitability exercise, which explored how climate affects management decisions such as restocking, culling, and supplemental feed purchase, as well as the financial viability of a ranch. Ranchers also used the RightRisk (http://www.RightRisk.org/) educational ranch risk management computer simulation. Typical decisions included the timing and sale of cattle and advance purchase of supplemental feed. The game included several sources of uncertainty, ranging from prices to climate variability. Profits were calculated and ranchers compared their initial profits with the outcomes of others.