Drought management tips

Droughts are common in Texas, and because droughts are inevitable, livestock managers need to plan for them. That plan should include strategies for finances, grazing management, and stock reduction, as well as for vegetation recovery after the drought ends.

If stock remain in a pasture too long without adequate forage, long-term carrying capacity for both livestock and wildlife may be severely reduced. Several kinds of ecological damage could occur from overgrazing including: more rainfall runs off with too little plant and litter cover on the soil surface; less moisture in the ground for plant production; increased soil erosion; plant root masses eventually becoming depleted, reducing the plant’s ability to recover after grazing or extreme environmental conditions; and invasion of undesirable plant species.

Now that we are in a severe drought, livestock producers need to consider culling options. Most of us have spent years building herds and now we need to consider carefully how we cull. Consider culling animals in this order:

1. Dry, open cows not raising offspring.

2. Cows palpated open (not pregnant).

3. Animals with structural or production defects.

4. Young replacement females (heifers, ewe-lambs, nanny-kids).

5. Cows palpated with short-term pregnancies (short-bred).

6. Older animals with offspring at side, but with worn teeth.

7. Older animals with offspring at side.

8. Thin, quality females, with offspring at side.

9. Good condition, mid-aged females (4- to 8-year-old cows, 3- to 5-year-old nannies).

The key to survival lies in balancing forage supplies with the animals’ daily demand for dry matter, as well as their ever-changing requirements for diet quality. As a livestock producer faced with a severe drought, here are some actions that warrant serious consideration.

1. Move yearlings or replacement females to lease grass, or sell them.

2. Wean calves, lambs, or kids at lighter weights.

3. Supplement only as designated cash reserves will allow, because borrowing money to buy feed only increases risk.

4. Cull livestock.

5. The last option would be to liquidate all livestock.

It is critical that de-stocking is done in a timely fashion. If some culling begins early, total livestock reductions will likely be less severe. If stock remain in a pasture too long without adequate forage, long-term carrying capacity for both livestock and wildlife may be severely reduced.

Good rangeland managers work to maintain as much carryover forage on the ground as possible to protect the soil, so that when it does begin to rain again, your rangeland is able to trap and store that valuable water resource. Remember, we are one day closer to the next good rain!

Crop producers are faced with the decision of what crop to plant with no soil moisture. A computer tool is currently on line at http://coastalbend.tamu.edu/droughtinfo.htm to help evaluate Crop Insurance Alternative Options between cotton and grain sorghum. Additional drought management information is also available at this Web site.

TAGS: Management
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