Ranch drought prep – plan for the worst and hope for the best

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Severe drought impacted all of Kansas in summer 2012. Mary SoukupSevere drought impacted all of Kansas in summer 2012. “The drought is far from being over at this point,” says Kansas State University Beef Veterinarian Dr. Larry Hollis in an interview with K-State Radio Network and Agriculture Today. “If you look at the forecast, I don’t see much on the horizon that makes me think we’re not going to have another dry year.”

While Hollis is speaking about the state of Kansas, the same rules apply to different regions on the country – plan for the worst and hope for the best.

“People need to have a game plan in mind,” he says.

Forage quality

According to him, after successive dry years it is important for producers to forage test their rangeland to prevent nutritional deficiencies including protein, phosphorous and copper.

“When we go through successive dry years, we get altered grass patterns,” says Hollis. “Cattle are resilient, they can go through a year, maybe two, but whenever you start stacking year after on we can get some deficiencies that are cumulative that we may not have ever experienced before.”

For producers weary about costs associated with forage testing, it may “nickel and dime” them more in the long run by not knowing the nutrient information about their forage.

“When you look at the price of cattle today, forage testing vs. one more calf is extremely inexpensive. Knowing what we’re dealing with forage wise and tailoring our supplements to meet those needs is crucial,” he says. “And it’s not just one time and it’s good for the next 12 months, we have to match our forage testing to major changes in the growth patterns of our pasture.”

Pond health

“Low ponds will warm up faster than we’re used to and blue-green algae can occur much quicker this year than it has in the past,” he says. “Also, if those ponds stay chronically low as it warms up, the evaporation rate will increase. So they will get lower and concentrate anything that can be in there that’s a toxin, or concentrate the natural salts in the pond to the point they can become toxic.”

This makes it extremely important for producers to have a plan before an emergency situation comes to hand – whether it be running water lines, hauling water or even relocating cattle.

Early weaning

While traditional weaning practices involves pulling calves of their mothers at 205 day, Hollis says early weaning programs tend to be in the 180 to even 90 day range. Research has proved calves still gain efficiently, removing lactation pressure off cows. Hollis notes producers selling calves immediately will be marketing fewer pounds, but they have potential to be even more profitable with lower feed costs and selling on a market wither fewer competitors.

When it comes to implementing drought action plans, Hollis recommends using “trigger points” to decide when the next step needs to be made.

“If at a certain point you haven’t received rain, maybe destock cows that are border line. Keep looking forward and each month, or two months – have a trigger point in there,” he says. “There are so many options producers have that are good from a management and financial perspective, that we need to line our ducks up ahead of time so we know how we’re going to get through the summer.”



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