Earlier in the year there were several articles in this column addressing planning ahead for the possibility of drought.
In April, Mark Sulc warned us to “Plan now for the summer slump,” which is the time of slower growth we experience every summer. In his article he addressed the importance of not overgrazing your pastures, especially during a dry spell.
Then again in June, Clif Little discussed contingency plans in his article “Planning ahead keeps grazing going strong.”
Being cautious not to overgraze was one of the main points Little addressed in the course of action that should be taken during a drought.
Were you paying attention when you read those articles? Did you start to think about the future and come up with a contingency plan of your own for dry weather?
I don’t know how it was in your area, but in my part of Ohio it was very dry up until a few weeks ago. For us, this was one summer where utilizing a contingency plan was extremely important.
In my travels I saw some farms adjusting to survive the drought — and some who just opened up all the gates and let their livestock have access to the entire pasture system.
How you managed through the dry times has a huge impact on how your pastures are growing now.
Some changed their paddock sizes and slowed down their rotation a bit to give the pasture more recovery time between rotations.
Recovery time is important no matter what the weather conditions, but it is especially critical in a period of drought.
A plant needs time to rest and begin growing again before it is grazed or you risk severely stunting the growth or killing the plant altogether.
When conditions are dry, it takes the plant longer than usual to recover and grow to a reasonable grazing height again.
Some producers chose to manage the drought by pulling the livestock off the pasture completely for a time, keeping them on a sacrifice paddock or on a heavy use pad during dry periods.
Feeding hay may sound like a silly thing to do in the middle of the summer, but feeding hay for a short time actually would save on the total amount of hay you fed in the long run.
Giving the pastures that opportunity to rest and recover means that there should be more pasture available later in the fall than there would have been if you had left the livestock on the pasture and let them overgraze it.
On some farms, it seemed that they gave up when the weather got dry. Some opened up all the gates and let the livestock roam all the pasture available, hoping they would scrounge enough forage to get by.
While this kept food in the animals’ bellies for a little while, it also was very damaging to the pasture. The forages in these pastures never really got a rest to recover from the dry weather and the overgrazing.
Pastures that were overgrazed during the dry period are coming back thanks to the recent rains, but they aren’t coming back nearly as quickly or as thick as the pastures where things were managed well.
If these pastures continue to be managed the same, then these farms will soon be feeding hay, while those who planned ahead and took care of their pastures during the dry spell will be enjoying their pastures well into the fall.