A gripping drought has many Texas pastures used for cattle production becoming less and less populated with forage. To deter permanent damage to the rangeland, it’s better to take action now rather than later, says Larry Redmon, Texas AgriLife Extension state forage specialist.

If you’re dealing with drought, consider these tips:

  1. Have a written plan. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Redmon says. “Keep good records of your stocking rates and your operation overall. It doesn’t do any good to have a plan if you don’t have records. We look back and see if we’ve made progress. If we haven’t made any progress, then what does that tell us about our plan? It may need to be tweaked or modified a little.”
  2. Stocking rates. Redmon said your grandfather’s cows that weighed 800 lbs. aren’t today’s cattle, many of which weigh 1,200 lbs. Redmon says to adjust to your current cattle and breed characteristics.
  3. Soil test. “Without a soil test, you over-apply expensive nutrients, under-apply needed nutrients, or never apply the correct level of nutrients.”
  4. Weed management. Redmon advises applying herbicide at the right times of the year to provide better weed management. This can also save money compared to expensive pasture mowing.
  5. Pest management. Even a moderate infestation of 10 grasshoppers/square meter can consume up to 60% of the available forage.
  6. Store hay in a barn. Hay costs about $120/ton to produce. If you lose 4 in. on the outside, you’ve lost 21% of a 6-ft. bale.
  7. Don’t guess on protein content. He recommends having hay tested for nutritive value. “Overestimating your hay’s nutritive value can severely affect animal performance. Underestimating your hay’s nutritive value can lead to excess supplementation costs.”
  8. Nitrate-test all warm-season, annual grass hays.
  9. Consider alternatives to feeding hay when possible.
  10. Consider alternatives to inorganic fertilizer.
  11. Include forage legumes where applicable.
  12. Reduce stocking rates. Cull cows and move cattle to leased grazing land when all other avenues have been exhausted. “You may also need to remove livestock from a pasture and feed stored feed supplement, but this typically isn’t cost-effective,” he says. “You might also consider having one pasture that is a sacrifice area. In this case, it would be best to choose one pasture or rotate. Feed them in one pasture one week and then feed in another pasture the other week. Also, make sure they always have clean water available.”

For more info, check out the offerings at the Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.