Pasture and Range Management
Responding early to drought conditions is essential. Overusing forage in drought, combined with chronic over-use beforehand, can contribute to long term declines in productivity, as well as poor nutrition for livestock.
Watching that livestock do not overuse grass forages (i.e., grazing below about 3-4 inches stubble height on forage species) is essential. Grasses that have been historically overused by livestock or wildlife have less robust roots, that are less able to extract water from soils during drought. This can lead to grass mortality, lowering overall production.
In western Colorado, overall grass cover is expected to decline over the next few decades, due to increasing temperatures. This underscores the need for careful management, especially in drought. The most important thing you can do is reduce demand for forage by reducing stocking rate in drought relative to forage production on rangelands.
- Learn More in this webinar on nutritional considerations in drought: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWNeFh5wG48
Animal Health in Drought
There are toxicity issues associated with plant species and water resources in drought. Due to lack of customary rangeland species in the drought, livestock may become more experimental in what they eat, and the possibility of water quality declines in stock ponds can be an issue.
Some forages can concentrate nitrates in drought conditions. It is imperative to test hay forages and ensure there is enough clean water and forage to maintain livestock health. Below are resources on weedy species seen in drought, and other issues associated with drought.
- Managing Western Whorled Milkweed – Fact Sheet By Bob Hammon and C.H. Pearson
- Nitrate Poisoning – Fact Sheet 1.610 by J.C. Whittier
- Fog Fever – Acute Bovine Pulmonary Emphysema and Edema – Fact Sheet UC Davis Vet Views
- Cyanobacteria Poisoning (Blue-green Algae) – By Miranda Meehan and Michelle Mostrom
- Why livestock die from eating poisonous plants by Beth Burritt Fact Sheet here
Drought Response Strategies
Alternative forages could be a money saving strategy because the cost of hay can increase
substantially in drought. Check out the resources below for more info. If you do choose an
alternative forage, make sure you get it tested. Some forages, such as sorghum, can concentrate nitrates in drought. Excess nitrates can be toxic to livestock.
o Fact sheet https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/livestk/01626.pdf
o Sheep feeds and management guidelines during drought – 1.633 by S. LeValley
o Forage Testing Submittal Form – CSU Labs (testing for nitrates)
o Ward Labs for forage testing
Strategic Destocking Strategies
Strategic De-Stocking: While reducing herd size is a challenging thing to do, it may be a viable option in times of drought. Having a plan to destock in a strategic way may reduce the decision-making burned in drought. It may also reduce financial consequences of the drought by culling cows according to financial and herd management goals.
Additional information is available from the National Drought Mitigation Center:
Decision Tools: You can also use one of our decision tools to contrast and compare the cost of different drought management strategies, such as comparing buying hay versus selling cows, or moving cows to rented pasture.
FSA Disaster Payments/Programs
In the event of a severe drought, the US Drought monitor triggers emergency aid to compensate producers for forage losses, and other drought related impacts. These programs, such as the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) do not require buying insurance in advance of the disaster, but they do require that you establish a relationship with the FSA.
The FSA is the best source of information on the specifics of a program. Find your service center here and info on disaster programs here. The FSA cannot advise what program you should choose. You may consider contacting your local Extension office to help navigate questions on FSA programs.