Along with protecting against disease and other animal health problems, many ranchers deal with dry weather year in and year out. The drought of 2011 caught many Southwest producers off guard simply because of its duration and severity. This year, the drought was much bigger than the Southwest and cattle operations in many other states are suffering as well.

Good ranchers and managers always have a drought plan in place and implement that plan when they see an imminent drought, says Gerald Hobson, rangeland specialist for DuPont in Peaster, TX. “Grass may be green, but if annual rainfall is less than 50% by May or June, good ranchers implement that drought plan,” he says.

The old established rule of “take half and leave half” of the forage produced dictates that good ranch managers graze 50% and leave 50% of available forage. “Ranchers are optimistic folks, and that optimism, in some instances, is our worst enemy,” Hobson says, noting that some drought-stricken producers overstepped the 50-50 rule the past two years.

“Many just knew it was going to rain and, in many instances, destocking or adjusting the stocking rate came too late for many pastures.”

Industry Related Resoure Page: Drought Management

As overgrazing occurs and perennial grass plants’ roots systems are weakened due to the lack of rainfall and extreme heat, all of these factors can influence and slow down pasture recovery, he adds.

Hobson also encourages bermudagrass producers who faced excessive drought and heat last year to take soil tests.

“As expensive as fertilizers are, you have to know what your soil nutrient levels are,” he says. “Soil testing will help do that, and it could be the best money you’ll ever spend. When nutrient levels are correct, you are able to utilize what rainfall you receive more efficiently.”

In 2011, some temperatures (in Texas) reached 138° F at ground level,” he reports. Citing a 1950s drought study in South Texas, Hobson notes that stretches of 100°-plus temperatures and continued lack of rainfall can weaken perennial grasses.

“The shading effect of perennial grasses help to reduce moisture loss and soil temperatures,” he says. “Good management in a drought becomes extremely important.”