Managing your Pastures and Rangeland during Dry Conditions

Dry conditions limit plant growth and reduce forage yields on range and pasturelands. Limited root growth makes range plants less able to reach scarce soil moisture.

 

Dry conditions on heavily grazed pastures will show a shift in plant species to more weedy species, which are shallow rooted and less productive. The effects of dry conditions will be more rapid on pastures that have coarse textured soils (e.g., sand and gravel, compared to clay-based soils). Farm managers must be prepared to reduce stocking rates during dry conditions.

 

The unwanted effects of continued grazing of dry range and pasturelands include:

  • plant vigour and litter reserves are further reduced
  • continued grazing can lead to a man-made drought
  • future forage yields are reduced and eventual range recovery will take longer
  • the value of rangeland for wildlife is reduced, as protective cover and food supply is diminished
 

It is important to recognize the effects of dry conditions on forage production. During dry conditions, the manager’s goal is to minimize pasture damage. Heavy to moderate use of rangeland and pasturelands can reduce your forage production and profit potential for years to come.

 

Following is a checklist of ways to reduce the impacts of dry conditions on your livestock operation:

 
  1. Reduce stocking levels to balance your livestock needs with your forage supply.
  2. Leave litter to insulate the rangeland. This will reduce soil temperatures and water loss. Allow only light to moderate use of forage. This will ensure carry over and enable plants to maintain their present level of vigour during dry conditions.
  3. Rest or defer grazing in fields that were heavily grazed in the previous season.
  4. Fields that were rested in the previous grazing season should be grazed first.
  5. Take advantage of grazing opportunities elsewhere, such as reserve or buffer areas.
  6. Consider using annual crops as an alternate source of forage.
  7. Graze failed hay crops lightly.
  8. Make full use of stubble fields in the fall, with supplementation.
  9. Extend your feeding period when it makes sense to do so.
  10. Ensure cattle have adequate salt. Some poisonous range plants are salt accumulators and can be more attractive to livestock during dry conditions.
  11. Consider the use of a portable water supply. For smaller operations, a stock tank on a portable vehicle may be an excellent way to improve livestock distribution across a pasture.
  12. Fence off low water supply areas. Pumping water from a remote site will improve water quality and reduce water loss due to livestock activity in the water.
  13. Consider purchasing portable electric fencing and poly pipe for remote watering systems.
  14. Cull open and poor doing cows early.
  15. Creep feeding calves on pasture is a good option to extend your feed supply on pasture.
  16. Hay and energy supplements can replace feed from pastures. Designate a sacrifice pasture where the supplements can be fed.
  17. Consider weaning calves early to reduce stress on mother cows. This reduces cows’ demand for forage by 20 per cent.  
  18. Hay stands should be fertilized in the late fall or very early spring to take advantage of any moisture. This will improve plant water use efficiency and yield.
  19. Cut hay fields early to take advantage of higher quality. Early cuts can be blended with lower quality feeds later on.
  20. Secure winter feed supplies early. Look at alternative options, such as feeding straw and grain or alternative roughages for overwintering your beef herd. Work with a nutritionist on feed testing and ration balancing, to ensure the nutritional requirements of the livestock are being met.  
 

Additional Information 

 

  Contact your local Manitoba Agriculture Office