Remember that females at different reproductive stages have differing nutrient requirements. Separate cows by age and reproductive stage to allow proper feeding of each group. However, during the period when drought tends to have the greatest effect, most females will be in mid-gestation, one of the lower nutrient-demanding periods. This should allow animals to be grazed together in a rotation system, allowing much more efficient use of what forage will be available.
Supplement if you have low quality feed, such as on rangeland pasture with no summer growth. The cheapest supplement is often high-quality hay. Under some conditions (economic) it may be cheaper to feed more grain than hay. Be sure to make this conversion slowly to avoid digestive problems.
Cattle will likely need supplemental Vitamin A, as drought-stressed forage is low in carotene. Additionally, don’t try to save money by discontinuing veterinarian- recommended vaccination and parasite control programs.
Avoid weed-infested hay, even if it’s cheap. The future cost incurred by spreading weed seed and the reduced performance by feeding low-quality forage doesn’t pay off.
Take advantage of areas dominated by annuals – graze them early when their nutrient value is high and you can control future spread of the annual by minimizing or eliminating seed production as well as put gains on cattle.
Livestock must have adequate water. During dry conditions when their feed has lower water content they need even more. A drought year could be a good year for developing additional sources of water. More watering points or sources are always a valuable management tool.
Keep good records of costs – this will help immensely in making decisions during and after the drought.
The last thing a cattleman wants is to ruin good pasture by combining severe overuse with drought stress AND lose his shorts selling calves because he waited until Halloween to get rid of them like everyone else. Work smarter, not harder.
(Adapted, in part, from the Cow-Calf Management Guide, University of Idaho)
For more information on cattle management or general drought information, visit WSU’s drought website: