Managing prolonged drought with alternative grazing and cattle movement

Drought can be an unavoidable issue in some areas which can require cattle producers to make some tough decisions, especially when excessively dry conditions persist for years at at a time with little to no relief.

This topic is one well researched by Dr. Bart Lardner, professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and he says although producers can’t control when the rain comes, they can control other factors including rotations and herd size, to help prolong the life of pastureland.

He says producers should start with an assessment of how damaging the drought is to have an accurate picture of the problem that needs a solution.

“I think really, it’s how severe is the drought in your area? And did it affect all my resources are only a portion of my resources? And so is it impacting my grazing resources? Did it impact my hay potential? All those are really think big things to consider and, will impact my winter feed supply? Do I think I can carry over my herd number? Or maybe I have to start to de-stock or maybe move cows to a different postal code?” says Lardner.

He says that resources should be able to be stretched for a year or two before the really tough decisions of reducing herd size will need to be made. Referencing cattle producers in the southern portion of Saskatchewan, he says those producers are now in their third year of drought and are now having to have the conversations that no producer wants to, reducing herd size in the name of sustainability. Lardner says however, it is important to get out ahead of a drought and make those tough decisions to be proactive, not reactive.

Looking at weeds, some may be tempted to have them be a main component of their feed; however, Lardner says to aim for only about a third of total feed as weeds.

“Weeds can be nutritious, but they also come with some anti-quality factors. For example, they’ll be maybe high in nitrates, and that can be an issue in terms of nitrate toxicity, they also may contain oxalates and those will tie up calcium, maybe [they’ll have] glucosinolates, which will be very irritating,” explains Lardner.

Managing rotations can also play a part in proper pastureland management in drought ridden conditions with Lardner sharing the different options for rotations, including rest rotation, where the land gets a full season off, oppose to deferred rest rotation where the land gets a break but is usually revisited by the herd later that year.