Managing perennial pastures in drought conditions

Managing perennial pastures in drought conditions

The drought monitoring report as of March 26 shows conditions have not changed from the previous week. The six- to 10-day forecast (April 2-6) calls for near-normal temperatures and a 33-40% chance of trending below normal precipitation. The eight- to 14-day forecast (April 4-10) calls for a 40-50% chance of trending above normal for temperatures and a 33-40% chance of trending above normal for precipitation.

Compared to the last several years, we have some soil moisture. Some of our areas are emerging from drought, Barton is abnormally dry, eastern Barton County we are experiencing moderate drought and some small areas are experiencing severe drought. A year ago, we were mostly in a severe and exceptional drought. This drought has been a challenge for crop producers, but perhaps even more so for livestock production. Hay was scarce, as was winter grain pasture. Our permanent pasture area has been particularly hard hit. Compounding the lack of moisture and fodder, livestock producers were forced to leave cattle on permanent pastures when they should have pulled them because they had nowhere else to go. This exacerbated the effects of drought. As of now, although the perennial pastures are not wet, they at least have a good chance of producing grass. Today, let’s consider some ideas on what to do to improve production and start improving pasture conditions.

• Producers already do this, but prescribed burning is a vital tool in rangeland management. It removes excess grass growth, recycles nutrients, eliminates some insect, tick and disease pressure, helps control invasive broadleaf weeds, and is a very effective tool in eliminating eastern red cedar. Now is an excellent time to burn, conditions permitting, and accelerate growth. It is not necessary to do this every year.

• Depending on weed species and pressure, consider an herbicide program. It is important to read the label regarding hay and grazing restrictions. But the past few years have been a boon for weeds like musk thistle, Sericea Lespedeza, and other problem broadleaf weeds.

• Consider appropriate fertilization after soil testing. It may or may not indicate a need but it does not cost much. Remember that proper plant nutrition improves palatability and yield. One thing that is not often considered but may help is a light nitrogen application. We remove nutrients while adding weight to the livestock. Some of it is replaced through manure and urine but not all of it, and livestock tend not to distribute it evenly across the field.

• Finally, do not overgraze. This can be a challenge but generally there are fewer livestock which can make it a little easier. Also, if possible and practical, rotate grazing to check the area more intensively, moving forward and allowing it time to rest.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is Agriculture Instructor/Coordinator at Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207 or martinv@bartonccc.edu.

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