Dry conditions increase need for grazing management

Heat and dry conditions are limiting forage supplies and emphasizing the need for livestock producers to plan and carefully manage their grazing strategies, a Purdue Extension beef specialist says.

If weather conditions remain dry throughout the remainder of spring and summer, pasture conditions could deteriorate and forages could be in short supply – a situation livestock producers need to plan for.

One way producers can be proactive is by caring for pastures through rotational grazing, Ron Lemenager said. With rotational grazing, herds are moved from one section of pasture to another to maximize quality and quantity of forage growth. Doing so helps prevent overgrazing.

“I think most of us realize that if cows are continuous grazing, they are going to always go for the lush, young plant, and that continuous grazing will reduce root growth and root reserves of that plant, and the regrowth is going to be significantly retarded,” Lemenager said. “Rotational grazing gives these plants an opportunity to rest and grow again. But obviously, rain is going to play a big role in that.”

Without rain to rejuvenate pastures, livestock producers will have to look for other forage options, such as hay. But the dry weather also is limiting hay supplies.

Lemenager said that producers can limit hay feeding access time to eight hours per day to significantly reduce waste and still provide all the dry matter that the cow can consume in a 24 hour period. From his research, total daily hay disappearance will be reduced by 15-20 percent.

He said cows and calves are most at risk from low-quality and low-quantity forages. One of the first animal performance parameters affected is calf growth. Without proper nutrition, cow milk production will decrease, ultimately affecting weaning weights.

The second area of performance affected is reproduction.

“When the nutrient supply becomes limiting for these cows, not only will milk production go down, but reproductive performance will also go down,” Lemenager said. “These are things we have to be most concerned about in our management strategies, and how we think through this challenge is going to be important.”

In addition to rotational grazing and limiting hay access, Lemenager said in the short term producers can consider creep feeding calves. But if the dry conditions persist, a longer term strategy would be to consider early weaning. Early-wean rations that contain feeds such as corn, oats, soybean hulls, corn gluten feed or dry distillers grains can be formulated to create cost effective gains. Early weaning lowers the cow’s nutrient requirements, reduces forage intake of the cow, reduces trampling losses caused by the calves, and can take significant pressure off stressed pastures.

He also said now might be a good time to consider culling and selling cows that were scheduled for the market later in the year.

“Cattle prices are strong right now, so it’s a good time for producers to consider early marketing,” Lemenager said. “They can either wean calves early, or they can sell cow-calf pairs.”

He said prices are seasonally stronger than what they will be in the fall because fewer cattle are going to market at this time.

More information about managing pastures can be found in Purdue Extension’s free publication, “Management-Intensive Grazing in Indiana.” It’s available at http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/AY/AY-328.pdf.

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