The drought is not likely to end and may intensify through September unless tropical storms bring relief according to predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With that in mind, Dr. David Fernandez, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist, offers tips to producers, especially those in southwestern Arkansas where the drought is most severe.
First, Dr. Fernandez advises producers to evaluate their pastures to determine how many animals pastures will support with little to no additional growth until September. Early weaning and selling of calves, lambs or kids will help to maintain the cows, ewes or does in good condition and lower their nutritional needs. Also, cull unproductive or non-pregnant females.
“Based upon the number of animals you keep, estimate feed needs and secure feed early. Store hay so that it is not bleached by the sun or rot on the ground side in case of rain,” says Dr. Fernandez. Then, test hay for an idea of how much grain or protein supplements to provide. Move hay feeders around the pastures to spread out the fertility of wasted hay and livestock waste.
Producers with extra forage should consider renting out their pasture or purchasing light weight stocker animals. With hay prices expected to remain high or continue upward, consider selling hay, says Dr. Fernandez.
Begin rotational grazing. It forces livestock to consume more and waste less of forage in pastures, and it also gives pastures time to recover if much needed rain occurs. Rotation grazing can be started by simply closing the gates on your farm.
Be sure animals have access to plenty of water and shade. Water in tanks and troughs can get very hot during the day. Erecting a shade over the water can significantly reduce water temperature and encourage animals to drink more often.
Keep animals out of ponds by fencing off the pond. Instead, provide access lanes so the animals can drink but not loaf in the water, suggests Dr. Fernandez. Pond water can become heavily contaminated with bacteria from animal waste. Mastitis and infectious diseases can be spread by contaminated water.
Plan for fall and winter grazing seasons. Arkansas often receives rain in September. “If you have winter annuals seeded in the pasture before the rain comes, you should see good early growth because warm season grasses will not be competing with the new growth. That way, even if you feed hay during the summer, you can reduce hay needs during the winter and early spring of next year,” says Dr. Fernandez.
Create a drought recovery plan. Drought damaged pastures will have bare spots where weeds may become established. Soil fertility can suffer so test your soil. Consider drought resistant grasses in your pasture mix. Design a good rotational grazing plan to allow pastures to recover, and distribute water to all of your pastures.
Lastly, do not be in a big hurry to restock next year. Allow pastures time to recover. Once pastures are in good health and with a rotational grazing program in place, you may be able to increase your stocking rate to higher levels than before the drought.
For help with pasture or herd management, contact your Cooperative Extension office or Dr. Fernandez at (870) 575-7214 or email@example.com.