Drought can present opportunities

I dreamed of fresh-smelling rain that beat waves against windows and swept slowly through fields to fill every crack before moving on to refill ponds and kick-start the creeks. Dawn light fell on a full rain gauge.

I thanked whoever had left their windows open, washed a truck, mowed a sparse third cutting or made plans to load cattle out of some dirt-road pens. But then I woke to a challenging world of drought and record heat, more nightmare than restful dream.

This is not the new “normal,” but it tells us something new and forces us to adjust expectations. The extremes range far from ideal, far from average and maybe far beyond our outdated worst-case scenarios. There’s nothing worse than to stand by and watch a wreck unfold into our world, regardless of the form it takes.

Waiting for rain or better prices while you do nothing different in selection or management– that’s a true worst case. We can’t fight the weather, but we can do more than watch and wait. Are you trying anything new this year? Opportunities are the silver linings of challenges.

Opportunities

Agronomists have a dream year for collecting data on how different varieties and hybrids respond to these conditions. Ponds that have yet to receive the foreseen runoff could be repaired or cleaned out while the sun shines.

In the feedlots, shade and sprinklers have seen wider use this year as innovative managers find the perfect year to see how much difference these small comforts can make to cattle. Positive impacts will add black ink to the closeout, from gain to grade and consumer acceptance.

Early weaning on the ranch was just an interesting concept until now. This could be the year to jump that up by a month or two, on at least some of your calves. Research proves it saves feed costs while setting cows up for a better next year as calves live up to their feedlot and carcass potential.

Pregnancy

Cows may have been hard pressed to maintain pregnancy in the heat and perhaps nutrient-deficit environment that developed at the expense of the calf they should have been carrying. You probably can’t find feed for a nickel a pound. It may cost three times that or more — can you afford to feed it to open cows?

Pregnancy diagnosis by ultrasound or blood test can work after just a few weeks and palpation generally takes 12, but by any means this is a great time to be sure when you can. If your resources are stretched too thin, it’s a great time to cull for greater efficiency or ability to thrive in spite of everything. I’m sure going to take a look at which cows weaned the heaviest calves this year and compare to their historical records.

On the other hand, let’s recognize the departure from average weather on the farm and in the feedlot. Those gathering data often discard the outlier results, even though some other kind of “500-year event” comes up every few years.

Don’t worry

Don’t discard a promising program or practice based on one year. Let the extremes inform rather than instill worry. This year simply presents unique opportunities to learn. My vision of rain will come around to real. I have resolved to make ready the flood gaps and fix that hole in the barn roof.

About the Author

Steve Suther, director of industry information for the Certified Angus Beef Program, writes from his farm office near Onaga, Kan. You can e-mail him at steve@certifiedangusbeef.com or call toll-free 877-241-0717. More Stories by Steve Suther

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