Easy Drought Management RecommendationsEd Rayburn
West Virginia University
Extension Forage Agronomist
Reviewed October, 2010Download a printable PDF
Drought management starts
well before a drought.
Stock the farm at a moderate stocking rate. Stocking a cow-calf farm at 85% of the farm’s economic carrying capacity reduces marginal income by 2%, reduces feed requirement by 15%, and provides adequate feed for the herd 85% of the time.
Use rotational grazing on at least the best pastures and meadows to develop deep rooted dense sods that resist dry weather. Proper rotational grazing can maximize plant rooting depth and plant tolerance to dry weather. Rotational grazing provides about 6 weeks of good forage growth after rainfall stops and gives about another 6 weeks of reduced growth before hay feeding is needed.
Inventory pasture on a regular basis to monitor pasture growth rate. When plant growth slows due to dry weather pasture and meadow inventories should be taken weekly.
When pasture growth rate is lower than pasture demanded by the grazing herd start final planning for and implementing of your drought management plan.Do not over graze during drought.
- Rotational grazing increases the ability to make it through a drought.
- during a drought!
- Feed hay in an abuse area that needs the fertility and wait for rain.
Reduce animal feed demand. Sell stocker cattle. Wean calves early (feed calves an energy supplement on pasture or with good hay). Market calves in a timely manner. Sell lower quality, performance, and old cows. Cow production records are important when making these decisions.
Inventory hay to quantify feed reserves. How many bales or tons of hay are on hand? Forage test hay by field and cut or if purchased to know its nutritional quality! Feed hay to livestock based on hay quality and nutritional needs of the animals.
Develop a drought/winter feeding program. How many days will hay need to be fed to how many cows, calves, yearlings, and bulls to be wintered? How many days feed will the hay on hand provide for the animal units to be wintered? How short is the supply of hay, in bales or tons? How many animals need to be sold to reduce the herd to equal the hay on hand or to pay for additional hay needed to feed the herd? Is there need for and if so what is the best supplemental feed to purchase for the animals being fed?Manage forage when moisture returns:
- Feed hay until pastures grow back to the needed entry height.
- Stockpile tall fescue for late fall grazing to reduce the need for hay feeding.
- Orchardgrass grows well after a drought but does not stand up well under snow.
- Smooth bromegrass and reed canarygrass go dormant early.
- Apply N (urea timed for rain soon after application, nitrates more expensive).
- Clover (25-30% stand of legumes use no N since it will not be cost effective).
- Soil P and K in high range and pH 6.0 or more to get the most out of clovers or N.
- Strip-graze stockpiled forage to get the most out of it.
Feed supplements based on animal nutritional need and nutritional quality of the hay fed, if needed. Early cut hay that has 25-30% legume seldom needs a supplement when fed to mature cows. High fiber supplements such as soybean hulls and wheat bran or high protein feeds such as soybean meal and corn gluten feed are usually the best supplements for low quality hay. Shelled corn is not well suited for feeding with low quality hay due to its high carbohydrate level which can reduce the digestibility of fiber in low quality hay. Corn is of value when fed at low rates with high quality hay to growing cattle. The value of a supplemental feed is based on its content of TDN and CP.
Cows should be in a body condition score 6 at calving in order to rebreed in a most timely manner. It is least expensive to do this on fall pasture or by early weaning and proper feeding before winter weather sets in. Cold, wet weather increases an animal’s energy requirement. A fat animal is better able to make it through cold weather. An old saying is “a fat cow is half wintered.”