The ‘D . . . . .’ Word is Back

– Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County

Despite a month of wet weather in the Spring that wreaked havoc with hay quality and stymied early rowcrop progress, the ‘D’ word (drought) is returning to many midwest conversations. When you take a look at the current Palmer Drought Index, you find that much of northeastern Ohio is classified as ‘moderate drought.’ Furthermore, USDA reports that 39% of Ohio’s top soils are classified as ‘Short-Very Short’ on moisture. Or, simply look out the window – bluegrass is going dormant if it’s not already brown. And, the 0.16 inch of rain we received yesterday isn’t going to do much to change these current conditions when you consider the rest of the week is forecast to be 90 degrees and dry. All that being said, take a look now at your forage and feed resources, and give some thought to alternatives that will hold you until cooler temperatures and more moisture returns.

* Wean spring born calves now – despite the dry weather market that is pushing grain prices, corn is still under 4 cents a pound. Considering you can realize 4:1 feed conversions on young calves, save the pasture for mamma. Mamma doesn’t need nearly as much feed if she’s not milking!

* Early weaned calves will be ready for an early market that is typically stronger than a traditional Fall market. The Washington County (Ohio) Calf Pool cooperators have told us for years that they are confident they get their calves marketed best when they’ve done it in August.

* If you can’t (or won’t) early wean, offer the cows 2-3 pounds of whole corn per head per day – one pound of corn replaces 2 pounds of hay, and, it’s a whole bunch easier to haul. Feed it on the dry ground under an electric fence wire and the cows and calves won’t waste a kernel. If you do have bunk space, wheat midds might be an even better alternative than corn. If you’re Fall calving and short on forage, a little additional energy in the form of corn or midds is almost a must!

* If your forage growth has stopped, pull the cows in and feed hay or silage. Overgrazed plants won’t recover very well when a little moisture does return. Roots transport moisture and nutrients to growing plants. When plants are overgrazed, root growth stops and when root growth stops, leaf growth stops too. The result is no leaf to absorb dew or light rain and no shading for the soil to retain what moisture is there. In 1999, an Amanda (Ohio) area cattleman pulled his cows in late July and August and opened a corn silage bag. His pastures recovered much more quickly that Fall, and were significantly more productive than others’ in the County that were allowed to be grazed down to the soil. Manage for the long haul – don’t destroy a productive pasture just to survive the short term!

* If you do still have forage that’s suitable for grazing, allow at least 4-5 inches of top growth to remain in the field. Also, extend rest periods to 35-40 days for most species.

* If a pasture must be overgrazed and abused, make sure it’s a mature, well established one. It will recover more quickly than younger seedings.

* Apply ammonium nitrate to resting pastures – especially the fescue.

* After the cows are dry and their nutrient requirements go down, plan to graze wheat stubble and the volunteer wheat that emerged with the showers we received a couple weeks ago. If you have a decent stand, you might even consider applying a little ammonium nitrate to these fields.

* Palpate and cull now before everyone else does. Moving culls now will not only save feed, but our dairymen typically cull more cows this time of year, and, we’re nearing the end of hamburger fry season = less demand and more pressure on the cull cow market.

* When a little pasture top growth does return, don’t be impatient about grazing it. If you must, only top graze it lightly and move the cattle on.