Beef producers can hope for the best but should plan for the worst in years like this, when pasture and hay supplies run low. One drought year, if not managed properly, will affect profits for three years, say Ron Lemenager and Keith Johnson, Purdue University animal scientist and agronomist, respectively.
In the first year, feed costs increase while calf weaning weights decrease. In the second year, calf vigor, colostrum quality, milk production, calf weaning weight, cow reproductive performance, and forage production all suffer. Even in the third year, the weaned calf crop and forage production are still infected.
To help manage in drought, Lemenager and Johnson cite 14 practices, used in various combinations, that producers can use to help minimize the consequences of low forage supplies:
• Monitor the body condition of cows as an indicator of the amount of nutrients available.
• Avoid overgrazing and employ rotational grazing.
• Creep feed calves to create near-normal weaning weights.
• Early wean calves to take pressure off 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.
• 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 a high-concentrate diet to stretch forage supplies.
• Graze crop residues and stockpiled forages to reduce harvested feed needs.
• Use drought-stressed corn for grazing, green chop, or silage.
For more detail on these points, see the Purdue publication, Beef Management Practices for Coping With A Short Forage Supply.