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Strategies to manage cows in drought conditions

July 2, 2012
FROM: Denise Schwab - ISU Extension Beef Program Specialist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

As the drought continues, cattlemen need to look at numerous management practices to help stretch their feed supply and maintain performance and reproduction in the cow herd. Here are a few strategies that may help.

First, develop a plan before the drought conditions get any worse. How do you plan to provide emergency feed in the short-term, as well as winter feed in the longer term? This requires an inventory of feed currently available and an inventory of the cow herd. You can often purchase hay less expensively during the growing season than in the winter. You also have the option now to incorporate silage into your winter feed supply.

Second, give your pasture some rest. Consider splitting your pasture into smaller paddocks and sacrificing one to use with supplemental feed. Allowing the other paddocks to rest and regrow when rain occurs this fall will probably result in more fall forage available to the cow herd. Also rotational grazing reduces selectivity in a cow's grazing habit, enhances forage utilization rate, and can improve pasture carrying capacity by 10 to 30%.

Consider weaning calves early. This will reduce the demand on the pasture forage by 25-35% and will reduce the nutritional demands of the cow by 30-40%. Creep feeding calves can help reduce the demand on the pasture slightly and will help prepare the young calf for weaning.

Cull all free-loader cows. Any late-calving cows, open cows, cows with feet, leg, eye or udder problems should be sold immediately. Why waste precious feed on cows that don't perform?

Finally, get your winter feeds lined up soon. Whether you need to locate a custom chopper or bagger to chop your silage, or you need to lay out fence for grazing standing corn, it is much easier to do now that at the last minute.

More information on cow management strategies during a drought, or forage planning, can be found on the Iowa Beef Center web site at or by calling the Benton County Extension office at 319-472-4739 or Denise Schwab, ISU Extension Beef Program Specialist, at 319-721-9624.



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