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Animal Health Notebook

Before it gets dry ...

Build healthy forage and lots of it to beat dry weather and maybe even real drought.


When I wrote this in mid-June I noticed it had been getting daylight before 5 a.m. since early May and now it's 8:30 p.m. before we think seriously about a bite of supper.

The sun came beaming through my door before 6 this morning. Spring was quickly jumping into summer.

We finished April with less than 20% of our normal moisture. The biggest rain event of May was 6/10 inch and now we are having near 90-degree days and they last 14 hours.

When it's 70 degrees at daylight and we get 14 hours of 100% sun it can make for a sure-enough hot day. With a little north wind we can evaporate a bunch of moisture and dry the ground in a hurry. Our creeks were at a dribble.

Stack three such days end to end and you’ve got a sure enough dangerous situation for heat stress cattle. Cattle heat up all day and don’t have time to cool at night.

Deep shade and the addition of hot pepper added to the supplement, combined with night grazing are my most effective treatments.

The pop-up showers often go north of I-40 or follow the Caney Fork, Falling Water, or Calf Killer rivers, none of which are close to us. Summer rain is attracted to the heat of bodies of water or cities or towns. The southwestern sides of mountains also tend to get more rain. Our grass misses the majority of these showers due to location.

A cattle publication that I was reviewing recently posed a question to several experienced producers in regard to their reaction to negative moisture conditions (dry weather) and the shut-off of grass growth. This pattern is a very regular occurrence most everywhere in North America. When combined with a drier than normal winter and spring, drought is the result.

The “expert” answers to the dry situation made for interesting reading, study and consideration. All four of the respondents said that they experienced slow to near-zero grass growth during part of the growing season on a regular basis. All of the Americans tended to react to the situation and the New Zealander routinely planned for those events by being understocked and not pushing his system with excessive numbers. It sounded to me like his place is stocked for “dry weather and winter.” All four respondents pay attention to weather forecasts and patterns. None had what I consider sustainable answers.

Walt Davis tells me that compared to West Texas and No Man’s Land of the Oklahoma panhandle, New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, western Kansas, and southwest Nebraska there is not a chance for a Tennessee rancher to understand drought. Since Walt is batting near a 1000 these days, I’ll just talk about dry weather.

He and I agree that there are natural principles that we must learn and include as the basis for our land management plans if we are to successfully cope with dry weather patterns. Success will come when we learn that our position is to be constantly planning for drought and grow enough forage to graze thru drought. This mindset will also deliver us to the elimination of winter hay feeding and better animal health and consistent profitability.

I want to mention again, we'll have Gordon Hazard and Beef Producer editor Alan Newport and several others helping us put on 2016’s best Ranch college at 499 Ranch in middle Tennessee in September.

Of the 2.3-day event, 60% will be outside in intense small groups. E-mail us at[email protected] or give us a call at (931) 761-5001 if you have serious interest. We have a rather complete outline. Enrollment is limited to 60 participants, and we're about half full at this time.

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