July 19, 2024

Drought may impact cattle forage

Purdue Extension specialists share checklist

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — An impending drought could result in inadequate forage yield for cattle in parts of Indiana.

“Many have experienced drier than normal weather,” said Ron Lemenager, Purdue Extension beef specialist.

“Coupled with usual or above average summertime temperatures, many are concerned about the possibility of lingering drought-like conditions. I’m hearing stories of first-cutting hay yields being anywhere from 30% to 90% of normal.”

Lemenager co-wrote the free Purdue Extension publication “When Forages Are in Short Supply Because of Drought” with Keith Johnson, forage specialist, and Nick Minton, beef systems specialist.

The authors shared a drought checklist for when forage supplies are low:

• Monitor cow body condition as a barometer of nutritional status.

• Employ rotational grazing and avoid overgrazing.

• Provide clean, cool water to reduce heat stress and maintain herd health.

• Creep feed calves to obtain near normal weaning weights.

• Early wean calves to take pressure off both cows and pastures.

• Identify and manage poisonous plants in pastures and hay fields.

• Establish summer annuals to increase late-season forage production.

• Pregnancy check and market cull cows earlier than normal to reduce feed needs.

• Inventory hay and other feed resources.

• Use a hay feeder design that reduces waste.

• Analyze feeds for nutrient profiles to help determine supplemental feed needs.

• Use alternative feeds to supplement and stretch forage supplies.

• Limit hay access time to stretch forage supplies.

• Limit feed to a nutrient-dense diet to stretch forage supplies.

• Use drought-stressed corn for silage, greenchop, hay, or grazing.

• Graze corn residues and stockpiled forages to reduce harvested feed needs.

• Feed an ionophore to increase feed utilization.

• Add moisture around electric fence ground rods to maintain a good electrical ground.

“Producers need to avoid overgrazing, which will negatively affect plant regrowth and total tonnage of forage for the remainder of this grazing season,” Lemenager said.

Although there are no cheap, easy fixes for beef producers with limited pastures and hay supplies, good management practices can help.

“Good management means beef producers should develop and implement a strategy that specifies what to do with pastured animals and where winter feed supplies will come from, long before the last blade of grass or bale of hay disappears,” Johnson said.

Download the publication at https://tinyurl.com/289uhd8m.

Erica Quinlan

Erica Quinlan

Field Editor