Extension Agent: Drought management tips

By Sam Womble

Recently, I participated in a Livestock, Range and Forage meeting with other Extension colleagues where most of the discussion involved the current drought. As a result of the meeting, Dr. Joe Paschal, Extension Livestock Specialist in Corpus Christi, compiled some notes worth sharing. Consider the following suggestions:

Pastures and Rangeland - Now is a good time to determine how much forage you have. Measuring the height and recording it can help you determine how to "take half and leave half." If rotating pastures, continue but slow down the rotation. This approach is harder on pastures but the hope is to catch a shower and get some regrowth. If you have very little or no grass, and have decided to feed your cattle, pen them up in a trap or one pasture and feed them in troughs. Hay should be placed in rings or unrolled. Feeding in troughs and rings reduces feed waste and loss because of trampling and defecating by up to 20 percent. Make cattle clean up unrolled hay and move rings between feedings. Test hay to determine quality and supplement accordingly.

Cattle - Selling nursing calves or very old or young commercial cows can stretch your feed resources and dollar by or more. In a drought, cattle will be deficient in all nutrients (energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and water). Water is the first limiting nutrient in many pastures. Cattle require about one gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight (plus five or more gallons if they are lactating). Water from ponds and dirt tanks will have significantly reduced quality (increased salt or mineral content) as they dry up. In addition, there could be toxic algae blooms or poisonous plants growing near them. If possible, these areas should be fenced off.

The next two nutrients of importance are protein and energy. Cattle can eat about 2-2.5 percent of their body weight (24-30 pounds) daily for a 1,200 pound cow. When forages are dry, this limits their intake to less than 2 percent, causing them to lose condition or weight. Supplementing dry forages with .4 pounds protein can improve digestibility and intake. Cattle usually require about two pounds of crude protein per day. Most dry grass is averaging 5 percent, so only about of their protein is being supplied by grazing. The rest will need to be supplemented. Grain can be fed in small amounts daily to stretch or substitute for low hay supply or quality (1 pound grain = 2.5 pounds hay). Cattle should be supplied vitamins and a good mineral mix, especially phosphorous (8-12 percent) and salt. Some feeds have minerals and vitamins in them and these can be good sources if consumption is at the recommended level. Cattle should be monitored for dust pneumonia and external parasites. In the south and west, ranchers are burning prickly pear as a supplement. Cattle fed pear need a good protein supplement plus salt. Cattle will eat 60-120 pads per head per day and need to be fed daily to keep them from eating unburned pads with spines.

Sam Womble is a Victoria County extension agent - natural resources.