To deter permanent damage to drought-stricken rangeland, it’s better to take action now rather than later, according to Texas AgriLife Extension state forage specialist Larry Redmon, PhD. He shared the following strategies with ranchers attending the Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course recently in College Station:
* Have a written plan “Keep good records of your stocking rates and your operation overall,” he says. Look back and see if you’ve made progress. If you don’t see progress over time, you might need to modify the plan.
* Modify stocking rates Cattle today tend to be bigger than in the past, and you need to adjust to your current cattle and breed characteristics.
* Test your soils “Without a soil test, you over-apply expensive nutrients, under-apply needed nutrients, or never apply the correct level of nutrients,” he says.
* Manage weeds Redmon advises to apply herbicide at the right times of the year to provide better weed management. This can also save money compared to expensive pasture mowing.
* Control insects Even a moderate infestation of 10 grasshoppers per square meter can consume up to 60 percent of the available forage.
* Store hay in a barn If you lose 4 inches on the outside of a 6-foot bale, you’ve lost 21 percent of its volume.
* Test hay for nutritive value “Overestimating your hay’s nutritive value can severely affect animal performance. Underestimating your hay’s nutritive value can lead to excess supplementation costs,” he advises.
* Test warm-season annual grass hays for nitrates.
* Consider alternatives to feeding hay when possible.
* Consider alternatives to inorganic fertilizer.
* Include forage legumes where applicable.
Finally, Redmon advises to reduce stocking rates, cull cows and move cattle to leased grazing land when all other avenues have been exhausted.