Prolonged periods of dry weather and drought are one of the greatest challenges cattle producers face. However, hardships can create opportunities for strategies and techniques to be tested and lead to true value discovered. Implementation of managed grazing systems and practices might seem futile when discussing ways to survive a drought, but I think it might be one of the best tools available in such times.
The benefits of intensive grazing management and related tools are well-documented. Stocking rate increases and reduced dependency on traditional winter feeding, for example, can be accomplished with a simple shift in management and focus. Furthermore, it’s one of the most effective tools available to help young cattlemen and women ease their way into an industry that is often a high overhead venture.
Through 2011 and 2012, a large geographic area of our country was embattled by drought. This included my home state of Missouri.
Managed grazing was the one tool that provided the largest amount of relief and made the most significant impact on my ability to control external costs.
Through this period of extreme drought, the grazing system I had implemented over a decade earlier began to pay off.
I learned that by managing my forage properly I could increase biomass and diversity within the plant communities in my pastures. This would help me accomplish two things. First, by promoting ground cover through canopy, it helped reduce moisture loss and promoted retention when we did manage to catch a rain. At times, I was rotating pastures twice daily, morning and evening. The small periods of plant harvest and hoof action greatly reduced stress on the forage base and at minimum, slowed root deterioration.
Secondly, the promotion of biodiversity helped stock the pastures with a variety of plant species. Even though tall fescue dominated my pastures, there was enough variety to reduce over grazing.
Managing my grass for the drought kept me out of a poorly leveraged position when I had to acquire supplemental feeds. I was afforded the time and flexibility to find the best alternative feeds available and compare costs. I kept myself out of a position where I had no options and would be forced into buying overpriced, poor quality hay.
If there is a way to shorten animal impact time and promote additional canopy to reduce soil moisture loss in a drought, it is worth the effort. This extra step in management planning can help provide resource and financial relief through a period that will challenge both.
Finally, once the drought broke and rains returned, my grasses responded quickly because they had not had severe grazing pressure. You truly discover the real value of a tool when your back is against the wall.