BEEF Daily

Could A Widespread Drought Be Next in 2012?

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There’s no doubt about it: 2012 has been beautiful in the Midwest so far. Although many were disappointed not to have a white Christmas, our unseasonably warm, sunny weather has been a blessing for many in my neck of the woods. Our cows are still grazing cornstalks, and it’s interesting to watch folks rotate the cowherd on corn stubble much like they would from pasture to pasture in the summer. We are saving a ton of money on winter feed this year, and a few lick tubs seem to be going a long way in maintaining the health and body condition of our cows in their final trimester.

Bruce Anderson, University of NebraskaExtension forage specialist, recently wrote about the many things he has been able to accomplish with the great weather, but he also shares some anxiety about a potential widespread drought this spring. Our friends in Texas knows what that feels like, but how will it impact the beef business if it spreads across the U.S.?

Anderson writes, “The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day gave us in Nebraska about the nicest weather you could imagine for winter. Every day in the 50s, manageable winds, and no precipitation. So, I took my own advice and did some field work. First, was some fencing. I have lots of old barbed wire fences. They wouldn’t be very effective if they didn’t have an electric wire alongside to keep cows and calves from rubbing on the fence. However, some of that barbed wire is sagging so badly that every time we have gusty winds it gets twisted into the electric wire, which shorts it out. So, I spent a couple days bracing up some corner posts, then detaching the full length of barbed wire before tightening it with the fence stretcher and reattaching. Should save lots of time and frustration next summer when I don’t need to detangle electric and barbed wire.

“Next on the list was tree clearing. Over the years, scrub trees have grown into the fences, especially where the fences cross a creek that runs through my pastures. They break wires, block access, and hinder maintenance or fence replacement. With bow saw and loping shear, I cut, pulled and dragged branches, saplings, dead limbs and new suckers from cedars, wild plum, mulberry, elm, and who knows what other woody species out of the tree line for another couple days. And, I made sure to cut back far enough so I won’t have any more problems for several years if I take care of new shoots in the spring. Despite tired and sore muscles, it was one of the most satisfying weeks in a long time.

“Is drought a possibility this year? Let’s look at some ways to limit the forage problems drought can cause. When digging postholes, two feet deep, and the soil was dry. If it remains that way until spring, drought could easily become a problem this summer, at least in my area. But, even those of you in other regions need to consider ways to minimize the damage if rainfall is short. Just look to the south for evidence of how destructive a drought can be. Fortunately, if you take action early you can minimize some of drought’s problems.

“For starters, prepare a strategy for using leftover hay. One of the better options is to feed hay a bit longer this spring before turning cows out to permanent pasture. I know this action is exactly opposite of my usual recommendation to graze more and feed less hay. But, allowing pastures to accumulate a bit more growth before grazing begins will provide more total grazable forage if drought prevents much regrowth later on. Leftover hay also can be used later during the grazing season to give pastures more time to recover between grazings.

“Another strategy is planting drought-tolerant forages for pasture or hay. Summer annual grasses like sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, and pearl millet are excellent choices. Wait until soils are good and warm before planting these grasses, though. Late May or early June usually is best. So, reserve some ground now for these drought-insurance grasses, before you plant everything to corn, beans and other crops. And, don’t forget about possibly planting these grasses as a double crop into the stubble after wheat harvest. If the rains don’t come, planning and acting now to reduce potential forage losses from drought will pay big dividends.”

What’s the weather like in your area? Have you been able to get a lot of projects done in this nice weather? Are you worried about a drought? What steps are you taking to prepare for a shortage of moisture?

By the way, Beef Bucks will appear as a $1,000 gift tag on “Wheel of Fortune” on today, Wednesday and Friday night’s shows, starting at 6:30 p.m. CST. For more show details, click here.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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