Grazing During Hot-dry Times

– Daryl Clark, OSU Extension Educator, Noble County

Has the summer of 2005 been a drought for your grazing operation? Ask this question of grazers and you’ll receive a number of answers. These range from “no doubt” to “maybe a little.” Rains have been spotty, and have varied greatly in amounts. Heat and humidity have also had a bearing on plants and livestock.

Many producers remember vividly the wide spread droughts of 1988 and 1999. Meetings discussing the effects of drought on forage, livestock, and market results were well attended. However, the greatest effects of these extreme dry, hot years has been on the forage managers memory. These memories include the almost hopeless feeling of not being in control. No decision could change the helpless feeling and make the situation go away.

So again forage producers are facing situations that are difficult to manage. So what can be done? What strategies and plans will help us get through this challenge?


1. Remember to take care of the forage. The forage plant must be our focus. Rain will come. Will your forage be ready to take advantage of it? Don’t graze your forage to the ground. Forage needs leaves to generate energy to survive and grow after drought.

2. Hold to the principle “Don’t graze until the forage has matured enough to develop root reserves.” Premature grazing weakens the forage and in some cases causes the plants to die. Recovery time can also be doubled due to grazing too quickly.

3. When heat and lack of rain slow growth, don’t graze as close. Additional residue helps shade the soil but also provides leaf surface for photosynthesis. These conditions are best geared toward the statement “take half – leave half.”

4. A word of caution, taller residuals tend to favor deeper-rooted plants. Those who are “managing fescue” need to be aware that residuals need to change during the year. As a general rule, a short residual in wet warm weather favors shallower rooted forage like bluegrass/white clover. So vary the residual to maintain a diverse forage base.

5. If forage growth isn’t adequate for livestock nutrient needs, supplement forage with stored feed! This supplementation can occur in the paddock with the pasture growth. However, if growth has stopped, and no additional paddocks of forage are available, chose a “sacrifice area” to feed the stored feeds. This “sacrifice area” could be an area where the additional fertility from the stored feed and manure can also be utilized.

6. Supplemental feeds can be quite varied.
a) Old round bales
b) New round bales
c) Corn or other grain
d) Grain byproducts like corn gluten feed or soy hull pellets.
e) Your neighbor’s un-mowed meadows etc.
f) Let your imagination wonder.

BUT ABOVE ALL, REMEMBER TO FOCUS ON THE FORAGE! Stored feed comes and goes but forage lives perennially – maintain its vigor. RAIN will return, have the forage in a state ready to benefit from it.