Improving pasture management can be an effective way to stretch forage supplies during the dry conditions that encompass most of Arkansas, says John Jennings, University of Arkansas Extension forage specialist.
“Producers who plan ahead get themselves into a position to take advantage of better growing conditions when those conditions eventually arrive,” says Jennings.
According to the U.S. drought monitor, all of Arkansas is classified as abnormally dry or in a moderate drought, and forecasters are calling for more of the same through August.
“Hay barns are still empty, and the spring hay-crop yield is running about 50-60% of normal at this point,” says Jennings. “Pasture growth has stalled due to the dry conditions and the small amount of hay may be needed to feed livestock if rain doesn’t arrive soon.”
One option for producers facing a dry summer is to cull poor-performing cattle; another is to focus on pasture management. His pasture recommendations:
● Protect any remaining standing forage by shutting pasture gates or by using temporary electric fencing. Manage it like standing hay and feed it a few acres at a time to make it last as long as possible. A solar fence energizer and single strand of temporary electric wire can be installed in a matter of minutes to subdivide pastures as needed.
● Rotational grazing is a good drought management tool. It helps maintain forage growth longer into a drought period than continuous grazing. Overgrazing weakens plants and leads to shortened root systems, causing them to respond more slowly to rain and fertilizer than do healthier plants. Rotating pastures during drought conditions can help protect the pastures that will be needed for summer production.
● Although all forages produce lower yields in droughts, some species, including bermudagrass and Kentucky 31 tall fescue, can tolerate heavy grazing pressure and still persist while others are eliminated from the stand. Manage grazing pressure carefully during prolonged dry weather to prevent loss of high-quality forage species such as novel-endophyte fescue, clover and orchardgrass.
● Feeding hay and limit-grazing during dry weather can stretch available forage on drought-stressed pastures. If all pastures are already grazed short and no regrowth is being produced, cattle can be shut in a single pasture and fed hay until better growing conditions arrive. This practice may be detrimental to that pasture, but it helps protect forage in other pastures that will needed for later grazing.