By Doo-Hong Min, Michigan State University Extension
Droughts are an act of Mother Nature and cannot be controlled. However, proper management can help maintain pasture land during a period of drought:
- Minimize overgrazing: Overgrazing livestock on pasture during drought periods can weaken the stressed plants causing shortened root depth and further lengthening the recovery period even after rain comes. Therefore, it's wise not to overgraze with 65 – 75 percent carrying capacity using a rotational grazing practice. This will help forage plants recover from drought stress and regrow faster next spring.
- Use sacrifice paddock(s): Instead of grazing every pasture, set aside a sacrifice paddock where hay is fed to minimize severe drought damage. This sacrifice paddock should be the old, low yielding/quality pasture that needs to be renovated or reseeded.
- Watch U.S. drought outlook: Keeping track of the forecast may help you plan you next move when managing pasture lands. The U.S Drought Monitor is a useful tool to get an idea about current drought conditions and the impact it may have in the short and long term.
- Apply fertilizer: Right after drought-ending rain, applying nitrogen fertilizer (50 pounds N per acre) can help the drought-stressed grass hay fields and pasture to recover faster and store more root reserves for the long winter. If the soil of drought-stressed hay and pasture is low in phosphorus and potassium, it's important to fertilize with these nutrients to insure the crop survives through the winter. Adjusting phosphorus also helps lower the risk of grass tetany by increasing magnesium uptake in the spring.
- Plant cool-season annual forages to extend grazing season: Drought-stressed pasture may not produce enough forage for the rest of growing season until winter starts. Thus, some producers plant cool-season annuals such as forage brassicas (turnip, forage rape or kale) and small grains (rye, wheat or oats) to extend grazing season. Although forage brassicas are not drought tolerant crops, they can be planted in late summer. Forage beassicas are suitable for cattle, sheep and goats, but are not recommended for horses.
- Control stubble height: To restore healthy forage stands, it is important not to graze or harvest drought-stressed forage plants too short in the fall. It is desirable to leave six inches of stubble before entering winter. This also helps to catch moisture replenishing snow and for re-growth in early spring.
This article was published by MSU Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).
Doo-Hong Min writes for Michigan State University Extension