Dealing With Drought

By: Tim Jergenson, Barron County UWEX Agriculture Agent

Crops on lighter soils will show the greatest stress during dry weather. While gardeners and farmers can’t control the weather, there are some management steps that can be taken to help deal with problems that are caused by drought.

Forage Harvesting Suggestions

Dairy and livestock producers harvesting hay or oats as a forage must decide whether to ensile the crop or feed it fresh. If plants show signs of drought stress, be careful about using them as fresh forage because nitrate levels may be high. A better option is to use plants as silage, because the silage fermentation process reduces nitrate levels. In either case, testing is critical for safe feeding.

Silage shoulds be stored at least three weeks before testing and feeding take place. Have both a nutritional analysis and nitrate test completed on crops. Test results will help you determine safe feeding amounts, as well as the need for grain and protein supplements.

Test drought-stressed oats and barley for nutritional value. They often are reduced to empty hulls or a very light grain. The result is low energy and proteinĀ  and a limited feeding value for poultry and swine. Oats and barley may work well in combination with beef and other livestock feeds.

Managing Pastures

Beef producers can stretch pastures during dry weather by reducing stocking rates. This can be accomplished a number of different ways. Some ideas to consider are: sell yearlings or place them in a feedlot, cull less productive cow-calf pairs, move cattle to other pastures, and wean calves early.

Culling less productive pairs is another alternative to reduce stocking rates. To do this effectively, good production records are needed to select culling candidates. Cull cows based upon age, pregnancy status, and other production traits that have an economic impact.

Early weaning is an effective management tool, especially for two and three year old cows. Lactating cows typically consumer 0.4 to 0.6 percent of body weight more forage than dry cows. By the time a calf weighs 400 to 500 pounds, it is consuming 1.8 to 2.0 percent of body weight in forage.

Weaning calves can significantly improve your late season forage situation. Weaning can be done as early as two months of age but generally results are better if you wait until calves are at least three months old. Be sure to discuss an early weaning vaccination program with your veterinarian.

Supplement Cattle on Pasture

Providing supplemental feed is another short-term option for dealing with drought. Providing supplemental hay to grazing dairy and beef cows will stretch pastures. Another option to consider is putting the cow herd in dry lot. Cereal grains such as corn, barley or oats may also be used. Limit supplemental grain to less than 0.4 percent of body weight for beef cpws in most situations since excess starch can depress fiber digestiblity in forages.

Creep feeding beef calves on pasture can also be used to provide supplemental nutrients to the calf. Creep feeds typically replace forage in the diet of the grazing calf. Consequently, using creep feeds can free up forage for the cow herd.

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