Chuck Coffey, Noble Foundation forage specialist, recently spoke at the Texoma Ag Seminar about the effects of last year’s drought on pastures. The severe shortage of rainfall will have negative impacts on our range land throughout the next couple of years. According to Coffey, “Stressed pastures can take a long time to recover, and the issue needs to be addressed.”
The 2012 year will prove to us all just how important grass is to the livestock industry. Most producers can easily overcome seasonal or localized drought by feeding hay reserves or buying hay at a reasonable cost, but when drought is regionalized and extended, like last year, there is not an easy or economical way to keep production levels high. It is very difficult to sell cows and reduce stocking rates (especially with cattle prices as high as they are), but a livestock producers’ focus should be on the health of his/her pastures in order to be profitable over the long term. Continued overgrazing will only further degrade the land, causing even more problems in the future.
Clay County has been fortunate to receive some rainfall that started back in the late summer/early fall. With those rains came a flush of winter annuals. However, don’t be deceived into thinking everything is back to normal. While it’s certainly nice to have forages to graze, these winter annuals will use much of the soil moisture and nutrients, and reduce their availability for warm-season forages. If rainfall is not received in late April, May and June, producers will find themselves in the same predicament as last year. Meteorologists are predicting another less severe La Nina pattern this spring and summer. Based on these predictions and the time needed for pastures to recover, Coffey is encouraging producers to evaluate their historical stocking rates and reduce cow numbers by as much as 50 percent if they haven’t already done so.
The following is a list of strategies Mr. Coffey shared with participants during the Texoma Ag Seminar:
- Keep a complete and current inventory of resources, such as hay supplies, cattle numbers and forage growth, and the amount of time these resources will sustain an operation. Know whether or not there is adequate moisture and the amount of forage it will grow. Critically evaluate the moisture situation on May 1 and again on June 1.
- Plan to rest some pastures for at least part of the growing season.
- Take full advantage of winter annuals. Consider increasing stock density by combining cows into one herd or subdivide pastures, especially from March to May.
- Be prepared to control weeds through stock density or the use of herbicides. Begin scouting pastures in early April, and know the target weed species and what they look like.
- Continually monitor rainfall and forage growth throughout the growing season. Be prepared to adjust stocking rates accordingly or purchase hay.
- Secure hay sources early, if needed, if destocking is not an option.
- Producers should test the soil of any pasture they consider fertilizing.
Finally, he urges all beef cattle operators to keep their eyes open in 2012 and their “finger on the trigger.” Stay ahead of the game as much as possible. Producers must be proactive; don’t just expect everything to be okay. Have a plan and make tough decisions when necessary. A wrong decision is often better than no decision at all.