Supplementing pasture with alternate grazing may be your answer in some drought situations.
The first problem you usually face in a dry year is lack of pasture. If there is some grass, you can stretch it by feeding grain and hay or straw in the pasture. Barley chop at 5 pounds per cow daily is like 20 percent more pasture.
The most important consideration is getting the cows bred so there will be a calf crop next year. Energy is important. So is vitamin A and phosphorus. These are in short supply on dry pasture. An average milking cow needs about 75,000 IU of vitamin A daily either by injection every sixty days or in the grain. Intake of 1:1 calcium:phosphorus mineral should be about 4 ounces (100 grams) per cow daily. Mix with salt or feed with grain to make sure it is consumed.
If there is no grass you should consider sowing cereal crops for use as emergency pasture. Although feed can be purchased and transported to your farm, growing as much of your own as possible is usually the cheaper choice. Using cereal crops to extend fodder supplies is probably the most economical way of carrying your livestock through a period when pasture conditions are poor.
Oats can provide substantial emergency grazing if it is seeded on summerfallow or on low lying land where moisture is most plentiful. Barley, winter wheat and fall rye can yield as well as, or better than, oats and are also suitable to establish and produce high pasture yields in July but taper off rather quickly in August. The spring seeded winter cereals are a little slower to establish than spring cereals and produce high pasture yields in July and August. Their yield tapers off in September and October but they do continue to produce low yields during this period as well. Fall rye can be grazed for a period and still harvested for grain if there is sufficient moisture. Grazing in the spring reduced yield 10 per cent; fall grazing reduced yield 17 per cent and grazing in fall and spring reduced yield by 25 percent.
Cereals can be grazed approximately 4 to 6 weeks after seeding, and can be stocked heavily to use all available growth. It is advisable to seed a second field 3 weeks after you seed the first so that when the first one is grazed off, the second will be ready and so on. If drinking water supplies are adequately located this system can provide continuous pasture all summer. If it rains enough later in the summer, the fields your herds grazed early in the season may regrow and produce either additional pasture or hay in the fall. In times of drought, the previously mentioned cereals usually out yield other annual forages such as millet and sudangrass by substantial amount.
Other management considerations for coping with inadequate pastures are as follows:
- Confining cattle to a small part of the total pasture area for as long as possible in order to give the remainder of the pasture additional time to grow. The rotational grazing concept will increase forage production in dry years as well as in times of adequate moisture.
- Grazing grass hayland rather than legume forage stands if it becomes necessary to pasture hayland because legumes provide much better second-cut potential than grasses.
- Cutting greenfeed from a portion of cereal crops intended for harvest as grain. Weed field would be the most likely candidates.