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Before cattle producers begin herd rebuilding, range specialists urge them to evaluate their pastures carefully and develop a strategy to help them recover from drought damage.

Shelley E. Huguley, Editor

March 11, 2024

4 Min Read
Shelley E. Huguley

As drought dissipates across much of the U.S. igniting herd rebuilding among beef cattle producers, range and pasture specialists are urging producers first to evaluate pasture conditions before restocking.   

“The better we can investigate and be on top of how those pastures are responding to drought recovery is going to enable us to make better decisions about what we need to implement as we allow the landscape to heal,” said Benny Martinez, Corteva Agriscience market development specialist.  

Martinez, who recently spoke with Farm Progress at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show, Orlando, suggested producers evaluate their drought-ravaged pastures for the following: 

  1. The amount of remaining grass versus bare ground.  

  2. The condition of remaining grass, and if or how much of it has deteriorated. 

  3. Weed pressure due to the recent rainfall.  

Rangeland weed influx

As drought relief has increased, Martinez has witnessed a corresponding rise in weed pressure. “Because the grasses are in a deteriorated state, it really opens it up for invasive plants,” he said, clarifying that invasive plants are native plants with invasive tendencies. 

“I’m talking about plants that are going to fill in the gaps and present a competitive situation against our grasses.”  

Related:Panhandle wildfires: 'I thought we were going to die'

Invasive plants degrade the opportunity for forages to respond and recover, Martinez added. 

Extreme conditions often open the door to unfamiliar weeds, making accurate weed identification essential, Martinez said. “Because they're not traditionally found in those areas or maybe they're not found at those levels, identification plays a major role on what our decision should be and how we treat that landscape to ensure that we're allowing it to recover.” 

Nontraditional weeds, for example, may have been introduced through hay purchased from out-of-state, said Jodie Stockett, Corteva Agriscience range and pasture specialist for the Texas Panhandle, western half of Oklahoma and northern half of New Mexico. 

“It’s important to get your identification correct because when we’re talking about weed control with Corteva range and pasture products, it’s like writing a prescription on that given pasture. So, knowing for sure what weed species we have is key to figuring out the direction we’re going to point a producer in picking a product.” 

Katie Koenig, also a Corteva Agriscience range and pasture specialist, who covers Western Kansas, Western Nebraska and Colorado, said it’s also important for producers not to assume that because the drought is over or in other areas, persists, that weeds are going to disappear.  

Related:Texas Panhandle: After the wildfires

“We've seen in my area where people didn't spray last year. They assumed weeds weren’t around… it's dry. But when we do get moisture, we want it to go to the grasses.” Not the weeds.  

But if a producer isn’t scouting, Koenig said those weeds can overtake a pasture. “So, know that if we're in a dry year to still proactively watch your pastures. We’re going to get more moisture eventually, and when we do, we want it to go to the desirable forages and not invasive weeds.” 

Cautious optimism 

As pastures begin to green up and considering the strong cattle market, Stockett encourages cattle producers to proceed with caution. “Our pasture grasses have taken a toll with the drought and the minute we start seeing a little green grass coming up doesn’t mean to stock normally.” 

She suggested producers restock conservatively and take a pasture-by-pasture approach.  

“Some of these pastures around our places, we tend to use harder than other pastures,” she said, using the land closest to the headquarters as an example. “We’re going to have to be more prescriptive and check each pasture and come up with a plan going into spring.” 

Destocking: A tool 

Related:Steps to wildfire recovery

Martinez cited destocking as an opportunity and a tool to help forages recover. He suggested producers who reduced their stocking rates during the drought, stay at those reduced rates to give their range sites ample opportunity to recover.  

“It’s going to take time for those forages to respond,” Martinez said. “Although we see a top growing, the root system is depleted. The better we are at allowing those plants to recover will help build those root system reserves back to the state that we were in before the drought.”  

Forage root recovery will also allow for better moisture absorption when it does rain, “versus beating up those pastures immediately and not building that root system,” Martinez added. “It’s truly an opportunity to capitalize on absorbing the full profile of moisture.” 

Recovery of forages on bare ground will also benefit moisture absorption and avoid runoff, Stockett said. “So, being patient is important.” 

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About the Author(s)

Shelley E. Huguley

Editor, Southwest Farm Press

Shelley Huguley has been involved in agriculture for the last 25 years. She began her career in agricultural communications at the Texas Forest Service West Texas Nursery in Lubbock, where she developed and produced the Windbreak Quarterly, a newspaper about windbreak trees and their benefit to wildlife, production agriculture and livestock operations. While with the Forest Service she also served as an information officer and team leader on fires during the 1998 fire season and later produced the Firebrands newsletter that was distributed quarterly throughout Texas to Volunteer Fire Departments. Her most personal involvement in agriculture also came in 1998, when she married the love of her life and cotton farmer Preston Huguley of Olton, Texas. As a farmwife, she knows first-hand the ups and downs of farming, the endless decisions made each season based on “if” it rains, “if” the drought continues, “if” the market holds. She is the bookkeeper for their family farming operation and cherishes moments on the farm such as taking harvest meals to the field or starting a sprinkler in the summer with the whole family lending a hand. Shelley has also freelanced for agricultural companies such as Olton CO-OP Gin, producing the newsletter Cotton Connections while also designing marketing materials to promote the gin. She has published articles in agricultural publications such as Southwest Farm Press while also volunteering her marketing and writing skills to non-profit organizations such as Refuge Services, an equine-assisted therapy group in Lubbock. She and her husband reside in Olton with their three children Breely, Brennon and HalleeKate.

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