Friday, September 19, 2014

Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch

Pasture Management with Too Little Grass

Delaying Spring Turnout

If overgrazing and/or drought during the past year have reduced plant vigor, consider delaying spring turnout. Carbohydrates produced by early leaf tissue are critical for initial root and shoot development in plants that have been stressed in preceding years. A two-week delay from the normal turn-out date can result in a 10 to 20 percent increase in herbage production.

Delay turn-out by extending the feeding period or by grazing tame cool-season grass pastures, winter cereals, or subirrigated meadows.

When rotation grazing systems are used, livestock could be dispersed for the first several weeks of the summer grazing season in pastures that will be grazed during late summer or fall to minimize early-season grazing pressure. Livestock would then be consolidated into one herd for rotation grazing.

Seasonal Opportunities with Annuals

Annual plant species may become abundant when the vigor of perennial grasses declines.

Cheatgrass is a common example which is palatable to most livestock until it heads. Cheatgrass often presents a logistical challenge because it heads 2 to 4 weeks before native grassland species are normally ready for summer grazing.

Livestock will graze annual bromes for a longer period of time if a large percentage of developing seed-heads are removed in the boot stage.

When livestock stop grazing annual bromes, and native species are not ready for grazing, several options can be considered:

  • feed hay on feed grounds or in dry-lots;
  • graze winter cereals;
  • graze wheatgrass or bromegrass pastures;
  • graze early-developing cool season perennials on sub-irrigated meadows (more on alternative forages).

Broadleaf annual weeds and sweetclover can be grazed incidentally or intensively during the summer grazing season depending upon relative abundance. It may also be desirable to harvest large areas of sweetclover for hay.

Annual forages are not ready for grazing until 30 to 45 days after planting with adequate soil water.

Late-season Green-up

Ranchers should use late-season green-up with extreme care.

When plants break drought induced-summer dormancy, the initial growth will be produced from meager levels of stored energy, further reducing reserves needed for winter survival and spring green-up the following year.

While this principle most often applies to cool season grasses in the fall, it is also important in the management of warm-season grasses following a mid-summer break in drought-induced dormancy.

Adjusting Stocking Rates

More in "DeStocking"


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