Drought pasture management: During and after
Management tips for pasture land affected by drought.
Droughts are an act of Mother Nature and cannot be controlled. However, proper management can help maintain pasture land during a period of drought:
- Minimize overgrazing. Overgrazing livestock
on pasture during drought periods can weaken the stressed plants causing shortened
root depth and further lengthening the recovery period even after rain comes.
Therefore, it’s wise not to overgraze with 65 – 75 percent carrying capacity
using a rotational grazing practice. This will help forage plants recover from
drought stress and regrow faster next spring.
- Use sacrifice paddock(s). Instead of
grazing every pasture, set aside a sacrifice paddock where hay is fed to
minimize severe drought damage. This sacrifice paddock should be the old, low
yielding/quality pasture that needs to be renovated or reseeded.
- Watch U.S. drought outlook. Keeping
track of the forecast may help you plan you next move when managing pasture
lands. The U.S Drought Monitor is
a useful tool to get an idea about current drought conditions and the impact it
may have in the short and long term.
fertilizer. Right after a drought-ending rain, applying nitrogen fertilizer
(50 pounds N per acre) can help the drought-stressed grass hay fields and
pasture recover faster and store more root reserves for the long winter. If
the soil of drought-stressed hay and pasture is low in phosphorus and
potassium, it’s important to fertilize with these nutrients to ensure the crop
survives through the winter. Adjusting phosphorus also helps lower the risk of
grass tetany by increasing magnesium uptake in the spring.
- Plant cool-season annual forages to extend
grazing season. Drought-stressed pasture may not produce enough forage for
the rest of growing season until winter starts. Thus, some producers plant
cool-season annuals such as forage brassicas (turnip, forage rape or kale) and
small grains (rye, wheat or oats) to extend grazing season. Although forage
brassicas are not drought tolerant crops, they can be planted in late summer. Forage brassicas are suitable for cattle, sheep and goats but are not recommended for horses.
- Control stubble height. To restore healthy forage stands, it is important not to graze or harvest drought-stressed forage plants too short in the fall. It is desirable to leave six inches of stubble before entering winter. This also helps to catch moisture replenishing snow and encourage re-growth in early spring.
- MSU Extension’s Drought Resources