I’m about as optimistic as anyone. But I’ve attended enough drought meetings this past year to understand that drought forces producers to make decisions that are extremely difficult. And the aftermath impact is not always known.
Almost all grazing experts are telling producers to destock their herds and delay turnout this spring on pasture to save the pastures from sure destruction. Producers are encouraged to plant annuals, if there is adequate moisture, to fill in the forage gaps. But, it could take years before drought damaged pastures come back to normal. In the meantime, if a producer has sold a good share of their animals, what do they do for income?
There are ways to maintain the best of the cow herd, even in drought. Grazing experts are urging producers to plan their culling ahead of time. Cull cows might include those females that have poor feet or udders, are older, raise poor calves, or have a difficult disposition. The cows that chase you over the fence every spring are in that category, assuming you can get them on a horse trailer to sell them. Each of the subsets of cull animals could be sold at a particular trigger point in a drought year.
Utilizing cornstalks for winter grazing is essential. Considering the economics of keeping cows in drylot is on the list. Getting conception rates up as high as possible and getting the most production out of animals that remain in the herd will help too.
Calves can be sold early, or can be weaned and fed in the feedlot, to save on grass and cow health. There are certainly options when it comes to curbing herd numbers without giving up entirely on productivity. But, eventually, the numbers take their toll and producers lose their ability to pay the bills with their diminished cow herd. Then what do they do? Farm and ranch families can tighten their belts only so much.
I don’t have good answers to this question, but it is something many Nebraska producers are dealing with this year. While no silver bullet is evident, the answers will most likely be customized to each individual situation and will be a combination of small things aimed at maintaining the best of the herd, cutting costs and finding new revenues, yet taking pressure off drought damaged pastures. If you have a good solution or if you are coping with these kinds of issues, feel free to comment and let us know how you are handling it.
Be sure to watch http://www.nebraskafarmer.com and read our December print issue of Nebraska Farmer for news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Your best online resource for drought information is the Farm Progress drought site at http://www.DatelineDrought.com.