4 Livestock Considerations When Drought Hits Your Area

It's never fun dealing with dry weather, but there are some special concerns livestock farmers should keep in mind when moisture becomes scarce.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Campbell Mattinson/Shutterstock

In many states across the country, late summer and early fall frequently usher in drier weather and some years and locations can be drier than others. Although this weather shift sometimes offers a respite from summer thunderstorms, the downside is bald pastures, dry creek beds and a low water table.

Although you may intuitively be concerned about providing water for your animals during dry weather, a drought more importantly (and chronically) means a lack of food for livestock. Here are some considerations for when you’re faced with extended dry weather.

1. Use Water You Have Wisely

This is especially important for those farms that rely on a natural source of water, such as a creek, pond or lake.

In late summer when the water table is low and land is dry, you may need to set up supplemental water troughs if you don’t have them already. Make sure they are in locations that make checking on them easy.

Another simple yet sometimes overlooked aspect when adding a new water source? If this is the first time your herd is using a trough, make sure they know where it is and what it is for.

Herd dynamics come into play here as well. Monitor your animals to ensure that each one has access to the water and older, weaker animals or those at the bottom of the social ladder aren’t getting pushed away.

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Read more: Here are some things you can do to help crops during a drought.

2. Re-formulate Your Thinking on Feed

As pasture dries up during a drought, you will likely need to switch to other forms of feed to maintain an adequate plane of nutrition for your livestock. This may be as simple as putting out hay or other roughage earlier in the season than you intended, and/or switching to a concentrate.

Just remember to make any major dietary change as slowly as possible. Sudden shifts can cause diarrhea and other health issues, regardless of the species you are raising.

3. Playing the Numbers Game

If you find yourself in a drought season with little end in sight, this may be a time to reconsider the numbers in your herd. If feed is tight as a result of restricted water, take some time to critically evaluate if it’s time to sell off some animals who may be close enough to market weight, if you are raising for meat.

Likewise, if you have young from the spring and summer, early weaning may be an option, as a lactating female needs far more feed and water than one who is “dry” or non-lactating. If early weaning is not an option, also consider creep feeding as this will help decrease the amount of milk the young will consume from their mothers.

Read more: Keep these 5 important aspects in mind when feeding cattle.

4. Make a Plan

Whether you’re in the midst of a drought or not, it’s never too early to plan for the future. Based on rough animal number estimates, knowing what your herd requires in terms of feed and/or roughage can help you plan what you may buy the rest of the year.

Forming relationships with other farmers in your area can also help. One option when your pastures are lean is to rent or “borrow” other grazing areas. Sometimes, depending on the crop and when it was harvested, having cattle graze on the crop land can be beneficial.

As with most things involving livestock, knowing you have some options during a time of drought is always the best place to be.

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