South Texas pastures are starting to look green, but in many cases it’s probably weeds, warns Jeffrey Stapper, Texas AgriLife Extension agent in Nueces County.

It might take a year for grasses to recover from last year’s drought, he says. The dryness obviously reduced above-ground growth, but also stressed the roots, adding to the recovery time. Moreover, some long-range forecasts show the drought persisting and even intensifying in South Texas.

So, before restocking, he tells beef producers to consider a rebuilding plan and think seriously about their stocking rates. They should also consider instituting rotational grazing systems. Rotational grazing will improve overall range health by giving plants rest; they’ll be more vigorous and their root systems better developed. In areas where droughts are common, breeding herds should constitute no more than 50-70% of the total carrying capacity of the ranch during normal years. The rest of the herd should be yearlings or stocker animals.

“In Texas we should always keep drought in our stocking plans; we should have our pastures stocked for drought at all times,” says Stapper. “If we get into a period of above-normal rainfall and we have a lot of extra forage, there are several ways you can utilize it – graze it, lease it out for grazing, or possibly bale it. In contrast, you cannot feed your way out of a drought and be profitable.”

Producers who completely destocked may want to stay out a year and let their pastures recover – rangeland recovery only comes with rest.

“Keep in mind that the decisions you make before and after a drought are just as important as those made during drought.” says Stapper.

He suggests these strategies for dealing with drought:

● Maintain as much carryover forage on the ground as possible.

● Keep the herd composition flexible.

● Implement a grazing system that allows periodic rest of native pastures.

● Destock as early as possible. Make adjustments before the range or the livestock suffer.

● Balance forage supply and demand before, during and after drought.

● Protect the soil by maintaining minimum forage levels.

● Refrain from fully restocking after the drought until the forage has recovered completely.