Most of our area has been dry, and some areas are getting very dry. I hope it is raining by the time this you read this. The dry weather presents some challenges to livestock producers, especially when it gets this dry this late. Here are some possible drought strategies.

1. Cull non-productive animals. Cows (or other livestock) that will not breed are perfect candidates in this situation. In years of plentiful feed supplies, we may keep an open cow if she has been a good one, but in a short-feed year she needs to go. Another group to consider is older animals you were thinking about culling anyhow. Decisions on culling should be made early so precious feed resources can be used for the productive part of the herd.

2. If you are planning to change bulls after this breeding season, sell them now. Unless marketing plans dictate otherwise, there is no reason to use limited feed supplies on mature bulls you plan to sell anyhow.

3. If you have grazable pasture, consider rotating or strip grazing. If you have the ability to divide your pastures, forage utilization can be improved. Providing at least four different sections is best. By rotating we get better utilization and can give grazed areas a period of rest and allow them opportunity to make some recovery providing we get rain soon. The rotation needs to be based on available forage. Dividing pastures in two sections will help. Electric fencing makes divisions relatively easy.

4. If you know you are going need hay this winter, line up your feed supply now. Waiting till the “crunch” this winter may be a more costly decision or cause you to have to go greater distances to find feed.

5. Consider weaning calves early (3-5 months of age). This strategy is especially useful if cows are thin. This will reduce the cow’s feed requirements, allow her to recover some body condition, and give her a better chance to breed back. With grain prices, make sure this pencils out for you. Be sure the nutritional needs of the calf are met.

6. Drinking water is critical to livestock. If dry weather continues, springs and streams may go dry and animals cannot last long without water, so check water supplies daily.

Before committing, carefully consider these options and make sure they will work for you. The information provided here is brief, so contact your local extension office for more information.

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Phil Blevins is an agricultural extension agent in Washington County, Virginia.

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