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7 Techniques For Grazing Efficiency During Drought

Rotational grazing systems lay the foundation for heightened management of forages.
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It seems that the greatest benefit of cross-fencing pastures and having a rotational grazing system occurs when managing through 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, but allowing pastures to have a rest period in drought condition 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.
  • 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 and 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.

Learn more about UNL’s drought management planning.

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Additional Resources

Watch NCBA Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) winner profiles. See how the beef industry showcases its stewardship, conservation and business practices that work together on farms and ranches.

Blair Brothers Angus Ranch – South Dakota

Gracie Creek – Nebraska

Beatty Canyon Ranch – Colorado

JY Ferry & Son, Inc. – Utah

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