Take time to develop a grazing contingency plan

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forage oats

The truly successful grazers have a contingency plan for all situations. Let us look at inevitable periods and discuss some management options. Farms will have different management options based on resources, and not all options are appropriate for every grazer.

Drought contingency plan

Each summer brings slowed forage growth. Temperature, rainfall, grazing management and forage species all influence the extent of forage growth during the summer. One should strive to maintain proper grazing heights throughout the season, especially during dry periods.

Grazing height is of utmost importance in terms of reducing plant stress, maintaining forage species diversity, productivity and maximizing livestock forage consumption.

For some, having a hay field fenced can provide a grazing alternative if soil conditions are favorable.

One option to reduce forage needs during a drought is to cull unproductive animals. Reducing the livestock inventory prior to forage shortages helps to extend pasture mass and reduce forage and feed requirements. Another option is to supplement animals with hay and or concentrate.

Supplementation can reduce the pasture forage requirement. Feeding hay and supplementing with feed concentrates can stretch pasture reserves. Feeding hay in a sacrifice paddock or on a heavy-use pad will allow for an extended pasture recovery period while preserving forage mass.

When supplementing forage with grain concentrates, remember grain can increase total dry matter consumption and the digestibility of poor-quality forage. Carefully consider the energy source fiber content and forage quality when selecting concentrates.

Some grazers utilize warm season perennials or summer annuals to provide forage during dry periods. There are many options to choose from here and one must consider which livestock species will be grazed, cost and how the forage is to be utilized.

Mud contingency plan

When livestock remain on pasture after excessive rainfall, severe damage can occur. To minimize damage, rotate livestock daily and remove animals to a sacrifice area or heavy-use pad as a last resort.

Winter contingency plan

Once all free-standing forage is gone, one must have a plan to winter livestock. The winter-feeding area should have a freeze-proof water source, be high and dry, away from environmentally sensitive areas and provide protection from inclement weather. Heavy-use pads make excellent winter-feeding areas. Planning the winter-feeding program has a great economic impact on a livestock enterprise.

Excessive forage growth contingency plan

Excessive spring forage growth can be managed by moving livestock quickly through paddocks topping pasture growth. Excess forage can also be harvested as hay or silage. Another option is to increase livestock numbers temporarily.

New arrival contingency plan

Sick and newly purchased livestock should not be immediately introduced to breeding animals. It may be wise to have a pasture or barn lot dedicated to care and monitoring of new arrivals. Ideally, this area would be isolated with no direct contact to other farm animals. It may be necessary to isolate animals for 30 to 90 days depending on your veterinarians’ recommendations.

Mortality contingency plan

To reduce the potential spread of disease, all livestock producers need an approved plan to deal with normal mortality losses. The three most common means of dealing with livestock mortality are composting, burial and licensed renderer. Grazers utilizing composting must have attended an OSU Extension composting certification program.

Power loss or employee unavailable

It would be nice in everything was always normal, but the reality is, things change. Those involved in the day-to-day operations should know where water and electric shut-off areas are located.

Farm operations should have a map with the locations of buried utilities and water. Finally, personnel involved in the operation will change and how do we cover when a critical person is unavailable.

Some grazers make difficult times manageable by following a simple plan. The plan is a system that addresses all the variables that can and will occur when raising livestock. Take some time to develop your farm plan; it can make a stressful time more manageable.

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