When you have cross-fencing pastures and use a rotational grazing system, you experience your biggest benefit when managing drought conditions, according to Dr. Rick Rasby, professor of animal science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Grazing systems don’t have to be extensive (check out these four basic types of grazing systems from South Dakota State University), but allowing pastures to have a rest period in drought conditions aids grass persistence. In addition, if carrying capacity is lowered during drought, improved grazing management minimizes the impact of drought on grasses.
Consider some of the following grazing management techniques during drought:
- Delay turn-out to permanent pastures by feeding carryover hay or by grazing meadows, early alfalfa growth, or winter cereal grain pastures. A 1- to 2-week delay in turn-out can increase forage production 10 percent or more when soil moisture is limited. When considering this option, consider the trade-off between forage quality and forage yield.
- You could also flip this management consideration and graze the grass early knowing there is a reduction in yield and keep the hay to feed later.
- Construct temporary cross-fences within larger pastures to concentrate grazing. This encourages cattle to more completely use whatever forage available and defers grazing on the other pastures, allowing them to accumulate more growth before being grazed. Be sure to provide enough time for adequate plant recovery before grazing the pasture again. UNL has more here about managing cow herds during drought.
- Skim or flash graze each pasture very briefly with a high concentration of livestock early in the grazing season to use plants that otherwise would become mature and left ungrazed if grazing is delayed. Typical examples include sedges, cheatgrass, downy brome, bluegrass and early forbs.
- Temporary electric fencing and hauling water may be needed to control when and where cattle graze certain areas. Be especially cautious of poisonous plants, as well as nitrates, prussic acid and grass tetany. Some plants that are not normally consumed may poison livestock when forage supply is low.
- Avoid overgrazing rangeland, otherwise recovery following drought will be slow and production depressed for an extended time.
- Time grazing in pastures with questionable water supply or quality early in the grazing season when water demand by cattle will be less.