Managing beef herds when forages are in short supply

Two extension specialists say proper planning and management can help beef producers minimize the longer-term economic impact of drought.

Purdue’s beef specialist Ron Lemenager says forages are in short supply, and farmers and ranchers will likely need to implement more intense management strategies. “Creep feeding in the short term might be a consideration,” he says.  “In the longer term, if we think that the drought is going to last a longer period of time, I think we have to start thinking about early weaning calves, taking away that lactation requirement, and letting those cows fend for themselves on a little bit on lower quality forage.”

He tells Brownfield it’s critical to make sure pastures are not overgrazed. “That may mean that they’re going to have to provide some supplemental feeds, maybe confining animals to what we can call sacrifice areas, feed some hay,” he says. 

Lemenager says that’s a double-edged sword. “That kind of gets us through the short term,” he says.  “But if I’m feeding hay, now I’m using my winter feed resources and if we don’t get adequate second cutting and an adequate third cutting of hay, a short supply becomes even shorter.”

Forage specialist Keith Johnson says having a good understanding of the quality of hay on hand is extremely beneficial.  “The only way that we can smartly feed what we have to keep animals in good body condition is to test the hay,” he says.  “And work with the trained nutritionist to help in that process.”

If drought conditions persist, he says producers will have to consider alternative feeding options.  “We underutilize corn residues after grain harvest that could provide some feed resource,” he says.  “The big limitation there for that to happen is the fact we need water, and we need fencing around those fields.”

Lemenager and Johnson recently published a document that provides producers with a checklist to help manage their operations through drought. 

To hear the full conversation with Ron and Keith click HERE.

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