Farm Talk


May 30, 2012

Cattle producers may need to plan for a drought again

Parsons, Kansas — Arkansas cattlemen may need to prepare for another year of drought, said Tom Troxel, associate head-animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map from May 15 shows nearly 25 percent of the state, all in the north and eastern part of the state, as being abnormally dry or having moderate drought.

“Over the past 12 months, every month reported warmer-than-normal temperatures except one: September 2011,” Troxel said.    

"With warmer-than-normal temperatures and increased winds, the pastures seemed to have dried out faster than expected even after some good winter rainfall amounts," he said.

According to the Climate Prediction Center, the outlook for June and July and August show Arkansas has equal chances of having above-, below- or normal precipitation. The CPC also said Arkansas has between 40 and 50 percent chance of seeing above normal temperatures for the same period.

However, cattle producers can’t manage their operations solely on forecasts.

“They must manage their operations on current conditions,” he said. “Currently pasture conditions are in relatively good shape, but if it fails to rain in the next week to 10 days, pastures will become drought-stressed.

"There is an old saying in Northern Arkansas that they are always two weeks from a drought. Their two weeks is just about up,” Troxel said.

If rainfall doesn’t arrive soon, many cattle producers will be short of forage for hay and grazing this summer.  

“Cattle producers were very fortunate to have an early cutting of hay this season," he said. “Now they must wait on rainfall to see when and if they will get a second cutting of hay. They should be thinking about a drought strategy just in case the don’t  get early summer rains.”

Troxel recommends:

•Check pastures to prevent overgrazing, which can lead to reduced cattle performance.

•Be ready to cull non-productive or low performance cattle if the dry weather continues. Record high cow selling prices continue to be a bright spot.

•Plan water supplies for the dry times. Cattle require greater amounts of water during hot weather.

•Wean spring born calves early can help reduce a cow’s nutritional demands. Remember it’s cheaper to feed a cow and calf separately than it is to feed the cow, which feeds the calf.

•Even if the weather turns dry, it’s still important to provide free choice salt and mineral.

•Nutrient needs for phosphorus and other minerals and vitamins should be met especially during periods of drought. Provide a good free-choice mineral-vitamin supplement year-round.

•Environmental conditions that retard plant growth often cause excessive accumulation in plants of nitrate and prussic acid. If forage is suspect, have it tested for these poisons. Most common accumulators of nitrates ranked from highest to lowest are weeds, corn, sorghums, sudangrass, cereal grains, tame forage and legumes. Nitrate accumulates primarily in lower stems. Prussic acid accumulates primarily in the leaves.

•Continue to follow recommended guidelines for vaccinating cattle, controlling files and other external and internal parasites. Herd heath become more important during times of dry weather.

•Be careful not to overextend when it comes to feeding during a drought. The price for feed will probably increase as the drought persists.

For additional management strategies for managing beef cattle through dry weather, contact your county Extension agent, or visit:

The cooperative extension service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, and other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.£

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