Cattle Chat: Managing For Drought

Just as agricultural economists advise beef producers to follow a risk management strategy when it comes to cattle marketing, those same principles are important when anticipating drought, said the experts at Kansas State University speaking on a recent Cattle Chat podcast.

“Having both a plan and a contingency plan is important for mitigating the risk when it comes to drought,” said Brad White, Beef Cattle Institute director and veterinarian.

Nutritionist Phillip Lancaster said there are several options for producers to consider.

“One option is to plant drought tolerant crops that could be harvested for feed in the future,” Lancaster said.

Another option is to take the cattle off the pastures early to conserve the feed resources. Lancaster termed this practice destocking.

“One way to destock the pastures is to wean the calves early at four months of age,” he said. By doing that, the cow will stop producing milk and maintain her body condition with less feed resources.

“A lactating cow consumes 20-30% more forage than a non-lactating cow per day, so by weaning the calves early, the forage consumption will decrease,” Lancaster said.

Looking ahead several months, Lancaster suggested producers consider alternative feeds to meet the energy requirements of the herd.

“Purchased hay is an expensive option relative to the energy value it provides; feed resources such as distiller’s grains or soybean hulls offer energy at a cheaper cost,” Lancaster said. “Feeding the cattle a more moderate energy diet that uses less forage while still meeting the herd’s nutritional requirements can really reduce the feed bill.”

To know if they are facing a drought situation, White offered this tip: “With a yardstick, measure the height of the grass in the pasture in June, July and August and then compare those images from year to year to see if there is a pattern.”.