Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Natural Resources

Department name when degree awarded

Rangeland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

D. Layne Coppock


D. Layne Coppock


Don Snyder


John Workman


Rob Lilieholm


Utah ranchers commonly face risks to their livelihoods. The objective of this work was to determine if ranchers could make profitable improvements to private land forage given the combined threat of low beef prices, drought, and possible loss of public grazing.

We used linear programming (LINDO) to identify the most profitable solutions for private land investment with an 11-year simulation. Operations were divided into small, medium, and large size classes. Various forage improvements and public permits were options. Two phases of a beef price cycle (peak and trough) and 2 precipitation patterns (wet and drought) were combined as joint favorable or unfavorable scenarios. Simulations were run for each size class of operation under each scenario with a 0, 50, or 100% cut in public grazing. The analysis was based upon a partial ranch budget, namely, cattle and forage revenue less forage investment costs.

Under the favorable scenario of adequate precipitation and higher beef prices, all operations followed similar patterns of increasing herd size, retaining calves for sale as yearlings, selling alfalfa hay and barley, and treating various forages for enhanced production. All operations exhibited a positive net present value (NPV) over the 11 years. Reduction in access to public permits, however, reduced NPV more for medium-size operations most dependent on public grazing.

Under the unfavorable scenario, operation size affected response to combined effects of drought and low beef prices. Small and medium operations decreased brood herds while large operations tended to increase brood herds. Reductions in public grazing lowered NPV more for the small and medium operations compared to the large operations.

Work revealed 3 thresholds that could limit profitability of forage investment. These included: (1) dependency on public grazing for> 15% of total annual forage; (2) operation sizeacres; and (3) beef prices of

Across all scenarios and operations it was generally profitable to improve 4 forage types that filled gaps at different seasons to the year: wet meadow, alfalfa hay, irrigated pasture, and crested wheatgrass. Irrigated pasture was most important when precipitation was high, illustrating risks of irrigation in this dry environment.