Recurring drought is a natural part of the climate in many areas of Canada and creates a challenge when managing grazing and forage resources. Although droughts are often unpredictable, they are inevitable, meaning they are often at the back of every producer’s mind. Long-term farm and ranch management must include planning for and consideration of how drought will affect the entire system – including plants, livestock and water sources.
Eight tips for drought management
- When managing through a drought, consider combining groups of animals to encourage grazing of less desirable plants and grazing pastures with species that are more tolerant of increased grazing pressure. It is important to monitor for toxic or poisonous plants, which are more likely to be grazed during dry years.
- Sources of water for grazing animals can quickly become limited or unavailable during drought periods. It is recommended that any pastures that could possibly run out of water be grazed first. In some cases, it may become necessary to use a portable stock water supply in order to continue grazing a forage source where water has become limited.
- Producers should consider pumping water from the source to a trough to help extend water supplies, maintain water quality and prevent cattle from getting stuck in watering sites that are drying up.
- Stock water quality can deteriorate rapidly. Even if water quantity appears adequate, poor water quality can quickly cause health and production problems and even death. Test stock water sources frequently when animals are grazing.
- Extended rest periods and increased recovery times are necessary to protect plants during dry periods.
- Consider planting annual crops, supplementing pastures with alternate feeds, or creep feeding, to help extend grazing resources. Feed testing is an important consideration during dry conditions.
- Drought management strategies should be a permanent part of every grazing plan. The benefits of rotational grazing and managing pastures to retain litter (plant residue) are especially evident during drought.
- Drought plans should identify the order of groups or classes of livestock to be de-stocked, if necessary, and at what point each group will be moved if the drought persists.
Following are some current drought management resources available for beef producers.
- Experts Respond To Drought Questions (Beef Cattle Research Council blog post)
- Decision Making During Drought (Beef Cattle Research Council blog post)
- Salvaging a Crop? Here Are Some Things to Consider When Valuing a Crop for Feed (Beef Cattle Research Council blog post)
- Salvaging Damaged Crops for Livestock Feed (Verified Beef Production Plus Fact Sheet)
- Drought Management Strategies (Beef Cattle Research Council web page)
- Drought Management Strategies (Beef Cattle Research Council blog post)
- Dealing with Drought: Key Facts for Beef Producers (Beef Cattle Research Council factsheet)
- Heat Stress in Beef Cattle (Alberta Farm Animal Care)
- Canadian Drought Monitor (Government of Canada web page)
- Conserving Pasture Production During Dry Conditions (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs web page)
- Fall Pasture Fertility Management After A Dry Summer (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs article)
- What’s In Your Water? Water Quality and the Economics of Pump Systems (Beef Cattle Research Council webinar recording)
- Alternative Feeds (Beef Cattle Research Council web page)
- Managing Forage in a Dry Year (Canadian Cattlemen Magazine article)
- Feed Testing & Analysis for Beef Cattle (Beef Cattle Research Council web page)
- How to Manage for Drought with Grazing (Foothills Forage and Grazing Association video)
- Stretching Feed Supplies (Beef Cattle Research Council blog post)
- Is Creep Feeding an Answer to Your Pasture Woes? (Beef Cattle Research Council blog post)
Click here to subscribe to the BCRC Blog and receive email notifications when new content is posted.
The sharing or reprinting of BCRC Blog articles is welcome and encouraged. Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address, www.BeefResearch.ca, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at email@example.com.
We welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. Contact us directly or generate public discussion by posting your thoughts below.