Dealing With Drought

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I know that we are all thankful for the rain we have received over the past few days. It is important to remember that we are still in a drought and the long term forecast for the remainder of the summer is dry. With that in mind, I want to remind everyone that you should have a plan in place for drought conditions on your operation. Some of you may already have a plan in place, but for those who do not, you need to be thinking about what steps you should be taking to prepare. Prepare your forage for drought. How do we accomplish this? Number one, we need to think about the part of plant that we don’t see, that is the roots. Rooting depth and exploration are a critical part to a plant’s ability to survive and recover from drought. Root development is influenced by soil pH and soil fertility more than any other factors. Having proper soil pH and fertility is essential to helping plants tap into water stored deeper in the soil profile and phosphorus and potassium are essential for root development.

The second step is recognize drought stress early. If you think about it, we are usually just about a week away from a drought. Keeping up with the extended forecast will help you determine if you will be overgrazing drought stressed pastures. Overgrazed pastures take longer to recover and are susceptible to weeds germinating and taking over when it does rain. One way to combat this is to designate a sacrifice area, only a small portion of your pasture becomes damaged. Be thinking ahead of where this sacrifice area would best fit into your operation.

Thirdly, you should evaluate the cost effectiveness of your feeding options. Several producers are already feeding hay and this will put a strain on your supplies come winter. Take inventory of how much hay you are feeding how much you are going to need. The quality of your hay is important also. Low quality hay can be fed to dry cows and maintain the body condition while lactating cows need higher quality hay. The best way to know just how good your hay is, is to have it tested. Hay that is lacking protein and TDN will need to be supplemented. Alternative feed stocks, range cubes, and corn fodder can help stretch your hay stocks and allow your animals to hold there condition, which can help with pregnancy rates during drought.

Finally, be thinking about depopulation. If hay supplies are short, prioritizing open or old cows to cull is a good fallback position. Focus your feed resources on animals that are your best investments. For spring born calves, early weaning is a viable option. The cows will regain body condition quicker and dry cows require 30-40% less energy protein than a lactating cow. Culling 15-20% of the herd combined with early weaning can reduce feed need by 50%.

These strategies may not fit into your management plan, but they should get you thinking about having a drought plan in place for your operation. Macon County currently is classified as severe drought and many pastures and hayfields across the county are showing the effects of the drought. Keep in mind if the drought worsens and effects more producers cattle numbers generally go up at the sales, while their price comes down.