Drying times: Not a matter of if, but when drought will hit

Dec. 21, 2010 at 6:21 a.m.

By Sam Womble

According to the National Climatic Data Center, October and November were the state's eighth driest on record. If Texas doesn't receive at least .78 inches before the end of December, it would go down in history as the driest October through December since the 1950's.

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University suggested that continuing dry weather is likely to persist at least into the spring. "It's probably going to get worse before it gets better."

The U.S. Drought Monitor indicated 85 percent of Texas is between abnormally dry and in extreme drought, compared to about 29 percent a year ago. Dry conditions combined with high winds have led numerous Texas counties to enact burn bans.

Forecasters expect a dry fall to continue this winter because of strong LaNina conditions in the equatorial Pacific where sea surface temperatures are cooler than normal which leads to drier and warmer winters.

No doubt, the prediction does not look favorable for ranchers. Another drought would have serious implications considering many have initiated plans to rebuild herd inventory numbers and kept replacements.

Another issue could be water availability, especially in locations where surface water is the primary source. Water levels in stock ponds continue to decline and conditions appear to worsen by the day.

So, what can you do? Plan ahead and be proactive. If you plan for another drought and manage your resources accordingly, you'll be better prepared. Keep a close eye on stocking rates and don't graze desirable forages to short.

Remember the rule for native grasses - take half, leave half. Bermudagrass can withstand a little more abuse but at a minimum leave 2-3 inches of stubble.

Depending on when your cows are calving and their body condition score, you may need to consider early weaning. The biggest advantage to early weaning is saving body condition on your cows so they will continue to cycle and re-breed. It's important to have a planned approach for supplemental feeding. A protein source such as cottonseed meal, syrup blocks or liquid products are good when forage availability is high, cows are in good body condition, or cows are in early lactation.

Feed energy and protein when forage is limited and digestibility is low. Whole cottonseed, alfalfa hay or a 20 percent cube are excellent choices. Energy and protein is also appropriate when cows are in poor condition or during cold or stressful weather.

The amount of supplement to feed varies depending on the product of choice. For example, a liquid product might be fed at 1-3 pounds/head/day, while a 20 percent cube could range from 2-6 pounds/head/day.

Lastly, remember to always keep a good quality mineral available at all times.

It's been said before that it's not a matter of if we'll experience another drought, it's when. Unfortunately, if the prediction holds true, "when" could be right around the corner.

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



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