As the July 4th holiday approaches, more than 25% of the U.S. is in a severe drought or worse, including Georgia, says University of Georgia Extension forage specialist Dennis Hancock.
“Producers need to make sure that the decisions they make to limit short-term effects of the drought do not result in long-term (problems),” he adds.
Hancock suggests they consider the following specific pasture management strategies:
• Maintain a stubble height for bermudagrass at 2-3”, bahiagrass, 1.5-2”, and tall fescue and other cool-season grasses, 2.5-3”. If pastures are already this short and drought continues, confine the damage. Identify and utilize sacrifice areas rather than overgrazing the whole farm. Choose these sacrifice areas where future renovation was already planned.
• Consider rebuilding a herd – it’s usually easier and cheaper than re-establishing pastureland.
• Limit grazing pressure on current pasture supplies by allowing animals to access hay and/or creep rations containing soybean hulls, corn gluten, cottonseed, or other such supplements.
• Avoid feeding leaves and/or stems of warm-season grasses in the sorghum family – sorghum, sudangrass, sorghum x sudan hybrids and johnsongrass – if they’re wilted and tan-colored. They may contain toxic levels of prussic acid.
• If, after applying nitrogen fertilizer, the forage crop grew slightly but didn’t reach its normal height or yield goal, there’s a good chance that it has toxic concentrations of nitrates. Test all suspect forages (pastures, hay crops, and even silage crops).
Hancock also recommends herd-management considerations and tactics:
• Maintain cows in a body condition score of at least 5, which is a lot easier to maintain than build back.
• Reduce brood cows’ nutritional needs by weaning calves at five months or older and give weaned animals access pasture supplements and creep feeds. If drought is extremely severe and unlikely to improve, calves 60 days of age or older can be weaned and sold. If retained, calves can be fed a grain-and-byproduct-based diet (80% grain and byproduct) to continue growing at acceptable rates.
• Cull cows that bore calves with below-average weaning weights and bad dispositions. Assign a priority to each animal in the herd and, as drought continues, cull accordingly. Invest resources only in animals likely to generate returns. Maintain a herd of cows that will calve within 90 days.
• Monitor weather forecasts and market prices for indications to cull further.
For more on drought management tactics, see the University of Georgia Extension bulletin entitled “Forage Use and Grazing Herd Management during a Drought,” or check out the publication, “Nitrate Toxicity.” Other drought-related management tools are available on the University of Georgia Forage Web site Drought Information page.