What Can Livestock Producers Do for Drought Management?

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Too Many Mouths and Not Enough Hay? Many livestock producers have been asking themselves questions on how to deal with the problem of too many animals and not enough forage. The lack of rainfall has caused pastures to stop growing and the winter feed supply is being used up daily on many local farms. Here are a few options to consider as summer winds down.

1. If you have decided that culling animals and reducing the herd size is definitely in your future, don’t wait too late to start acting on that decision. If you haven’t come to that decision yet, you should probably hurry up. Everyone has at least a few animals that you could part company with and your herd would look better. Every day you feed that cow is one less day you will have hay for another one you want to keep.

2. The first and best place to start culling is open cows that are not pregnant. There is no use feeding precious hay to an animal that won’t produce a calf next year. Many small herd owners keep a bull in with the cows year round, but if you can find a place to put him tomorrow (another pasture, loan him to a neighbor, ….) you can call a vet to pregnancy test your herd in 60 days. Where there is a will, there is a way.

3. Look for other obvious physical defects to help you rank cows for culling – old age, lameness, poor udders, missing teeth, poor keepers. If the drought deepens and your hay resources are still not adequate you can cull a few animals all along to stretch the feed you have. Starting early is key and you will be glad you did.

4. Think of what options you have to grow forage this fall and winter. Practices like stockpiling tall fescue or planting small grain or ryegrass might be appropriate. Are there any cropland acres adjacent to your pastures that could be planted and used for winter grazing? If rainfall arrives in the fall then applying nitrogen to fescue pastures will probably produce the cheapest feed you will be able to find. Be ready if weather fronts cooperate to make it possible.

5. What sort of crop residue is available in your area? Don’t overlook corn stalks, sorghum stover, volunteer grass in crop fields, peanut hay or other forage resources. Many of these are routinely used in areas where they are produced and are quite appropriate for dry cows. Other animals might be able to utilize them if offered a protein supplement or other feeds to balance the diet.

6. Can you reduce hay and supplement cows with commodities? I have seen herds wintered on a half ration of hay and 5 lbs of a by-product feed each day. The workload is not pleasant, but the economics might surprise you.

7. If your pastures are gone, put animals in a sacrifice area and feed in one spot. It’s better to destroy one part of the farm than to ruin the grass on the whole place. The pasture acres that are rested and protected will respond quicker and pull you out of the situation faster once rainfall returns.

8. Finally, look for sources of hay and do some calculations to see what you can afford. Calf prices are more than double what they were back during the last drought in 2007. And, the current drought is not that extensive and hay is available within a few hours’ drive. It may only take some time searching on-line hay directories or making phone calls to locate the hay you need. The hay that remains won’t be any cheaper in December or January, so go ahead and get started now. And if you decide that the hay is too expensive, start reading at item number 1 above again.

9. Get help reviewing the options. Ask a trusted neighbor, your feed salesman, county agent, fellow livestock producer or someone that understands the situation and can spot possibilities. Most likely they will verify your decisions and maybe suggest something you haven’t thought of yet.

Article by: Jeff Carpenter, Agricultural Extension Agent