Producers can combat drought conditions with alternative feeding programs
Minimal rainfall so far in 2018 has led to decreased hay production, and less forage growth in summer pastures for grazing.
While no one likes to think about winter in the middle of summer, the forage shortage is definitely cause for some advance planning and some consideration of alternative feeding programs to keep livestock at peak performance all through the summer and on into the colder months.
If stock is currently on pasture, they will benefit from a grazing program that allows producers to stockpile forage.
Stockpiling forage is the practice of accumulating forage growth intended for grazing in a later season, according to the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.
The best practice producers can implement for stockpiling forage is rotational grazing, also known as strip grazing or management intensive grazing.
Stockpiling forage and rotational grazing go hand-in-hand, according to John Jennings, animal science professor with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
“Rotational grazing can extend the grazing season during stress growing periods and can protect standing forage for grazing during dry periods,” he said. “Stockpiling forages is a very effective and consistent method for providing fall and winter grazing. Many forages work well for stockpiling, but the best are probably tall fescue or Bermudagrass. Other forages could work well based on regional experience and conditions. By adding both rotational grazing and stockpiled forages, the producer can gain several weeks to several months of grazing, all with the existing forage base.”
Add Grain to the Mix
If forage quality and quantity is low from the drought, adding grain to a herd’s diet can provide the additional calories they need to get by on less forage.
To maximize dollars, reduce waste and ensure livestock is getting the proper nutrients, it’s important to do research on current forages and collaborate with your local extension office or livestock nutritionist to develop an adequate feed ration.
“The supplement that is ideal for your neighbor may not be ideal for you. Forage quality, especially baled forage quality, is highly variable. Your neighbor’s hay may have low protein, while your hay is low in digestibility,” said Dr. Shane Gadberry, professor of ruminant nutrition at the University of Arkansas. “Because of the variation we see in forage quality, I always recommend sending forage samples to a lab for nutrient analysis. I advise our Extension agents to never make supplemental protein or energy feed recommendations for livestock on a forage-based diet without a forage test to support that recommendation.”
Consider Alternative Options
During drought years, livestock producers often must get creative with their feedstuffs. Many small farmers in the Ozarks are turning to fodder systems to grow additional livestock feed. A fodder system generally consists of a hydroponic style set-up that allows the producer to sprout grains of their choice – the sprouts are allowed to grow for five to seven days into a “mat” of grass, which can then be divided up and fed to cattle, sheep, goats, horses and other livestock. This is a highly digestible form of feed and it has excellent nutritional value. Other alternative options for feeding during drought include anything from picking up fruit and vegetable scraps at a local grocery store, to building homemade “mini hay balers” that can be used to bale forage that has been cut from non-traditional areas around the farm, such as ditches, lawns or pathways.