After attending the Farmers & Ranchers College Cow/Calf College, there was lots of discussion on preparing and managing the current drought. First of all, Al Dutcher, our state climatologist drove home the fact that most likely the drought will continue in 2013 based on models and other predictions. That being said, what does this mean for agricultural producers? Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forage Specialist spoke on forage planning for the anticipated drought. Current pastures have weak pasture plants, therefore it will be important to delay the start of spring grazing by 10-14 days, use long recovery periods, resist temptation to restock (too soon) and consider annual crops/pastures to reduce pressure and stress on current pastures. Bruce reminded cattle producers to consider planting small grains in the spring, summer forages such as sorghums, sudans and millets and in the fall consider oats and brassicas such as turnips. He reminded producers to adjust the animal demand, pointing out that 75% of the normal stocking rate could even be an aggressive rate in some situations. With the potential for weeds to come up after a spring rain, proper weed management should be considered as well.
One grazing source that should be utilized right now is cornstalks. Aaron Stalker, UNL Specialist reminded participants that Nebraska corn residue is in abundance; in fact beef animals graze only 25% of corn! Aaron stressed that the stocking rate is very important in allowing the cattle to effectively graze the stalks. Cows are selective grazers on stalk fields. They will select the corn first, followed by the husks which are the highest in quality of diet. Then they will select leaves which are medium quality and finally the cob and stem last which is lowest in quality. In all the years UNL has conducted research on the agronomic yields associated with cattle grazing, it has shown no decrease in yields, so utilizing these stalks, especially in times when forage is short is very important.
Another important discussion for drought preparation is pasture rental rates which was presented by Allan Vyhnalek, Extension Educator in Platte County. As with anything communication is critical to success for both the tenant and the landlord! While pasture rental rates might be set already between both parties, it is important to consider adjustments based on the 2012 drought and the expected 2013 drought BEFORE the cattle are out on the pasture. Adjustments should consider if there will be a shortened grazing season – how will that change the lease payment? In case of a weed flush, who will pay for the weed control? If a pond or creek usually used for water is dry, how will the water bill be split? During the growing season, both parties should communicate and provide each other updates.
In conclusion, there are many important considerations when caring for livestock during drought conditions. Taking appropriate planning and management steps now can reduce problems and your risk later.