Ron Lemenager and Keith Johnson, both Purdue University Extension specialists, have one goal: helping livestock producers, especially those that utilize forage in their operations, survive the consequences of the drought and come out the other side in reasonable shape.
To that end they've prepared 14 management practices they believe producers ought to consider when their forage supplies are low. Some may not work for everybody, but everybody ought to benefit from at least one or more of these drought-busting strategies.
- Monitor body condition- This is a barometer of nutritional status, they note.
- Avoid overgrazing g and employ rotational grazing- Unfortunately, rotational grazing doesn't work if it never rains, and nothing regrows on time.
- Creep feed calves – It's the only way to wind up with near-normal weaning weights this year.
- Early-wean calves- This will take pressure off both cows and pastures. Again, it assumes that you still have pasture that you can use.
- Identify poisonous plants- Animals typically don't bother them, but if they're hungry and there's nothing to eat, they can become an issue.
- Establish summer annuals- If you get some moisture with some rain, this may work. Several of these crops need to be seeded soon to get enough growth to get payback on your investment.
- Pregnancy check early- Consider culling open cows to preserve your feed supply.
- Inventory hay resources- Likely you're going to come up short. You may want to start looking for hay now. Since the droughty is also affected Illinois, Missouri, and southern Wisconsin, even finding hay out of state may be difficult.
- Analyze feeds for nutrient profiles- Specialists talk about having forages analyzed for nutrient content and few producers do. This is the time if there ever was one. It's the only way to know how to supplement diets, especially if you're forced to use some low-quality forages.
- Use alternative feeds- Just be careful that you know their nutrient content and supplement accordingly.
- Limit hay access time- It may work for a while, but you need to keep body scores in mind as well.
- Limit feed high concentrate diet- This can help stretch forage supplies.
- Graze crop residues and stockpiled forage- Include it as part of your strategy for surviving this fall and winter.
- Use drought –stressed corn for green chop or silage- Do it cautiously, however. Avoid nitrate issues by testing the forage, introducing cows to green chop slowly, and running the cutterbar high. Also don't chop within 7 to 10 days after a rain.