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Feeding cattle in a drought

When your area is suffering through a drought, it's tough for cattle to graze on pastures. Have a plan to either provide supplementation or cull the herd.

Radio interview source: Greg Lardy, Department Head of Animal Sciences, North Dakota State University

 
When pastures are dry, cattle are hard-pressed to find a green, nutritious blade of grass. This also makes it tough to meet their nutrient needs, including vitamin A, phosphorous, and protein. 
 
Greg Lardy is the animal science department head at North Dakota State University. He says to maintain herd productivity, have alternative feedstuffs ready.
 
"It might be feeding some kind of supplemental forage like a crop residue or hay, or, finding an alternative source of forage to take the cattle off the pasture," he says. "Maybe it's turning them into some crop residue that's available. In some cases where you've got a crop that didn't make it because of the drought, using some grazing to harvest that.
 
Before you take this step, be sure to check with your crop insurance plan. In some cases, regulations may restrict when you can graze.
 
If pasture conditions are really poor, consider feeding cows in a dry lot. Lardy says this may be more cost effective than transporting large amounts of supplemental feed for daily animal care. This also give pastures a much-needed rest to begin recovering.
 
Drought conditions combined with the economic climate may force you to reduce the size of the herd. 
 
"Number one if they've got open cows out there, they can probably market them," says Lardy. "If they have yearlings available that they can market and conserve that pasture for some of their better productive pairs, that's probably another thing they want to look at. The early weaning strategies are still real useful for dealing with these drought conditions."
 
Lardy says the biggest mistake he sees producers make is they don't plan ahead for a drought situation. This limits your options, and quite often, hard decisions are then made for you. 

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