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Get Back To The Basics On Post-Drought Pastures

Get Back To The Basics On Post-Drought Pastures

By Linda Geist

Recurring drought calls for forage producers to get back to the basics of farming, says University of Missouri Extension agronomist Terry Halleran.

“Practice standard farming practices to rebuild pastures following drought,” he says. Halleran spoke March 7 at the Christian County Livestock and Forage Conference in Clever, Missouri. Southwestern Missouri livestock producers have been especially hard hit from drought in recent years.

Missouri began December with 18% less hay stock than 2021, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Nationally, 2022 hay stocks dropped to their lowest numbers since the 1950s.

Halleran says forage and livestock producers should prepare for the inevitable – there’s going to be drought. Missouri has seen droughts in 20 of the last 23 years, according to data compiled by MU Extension climatologist Pat Guinan.

“Prepare for a problem before it occurs,” Halleran says. If you don’t, “you are going to be feeding high dollar hay,” he says. If you prepare and there’s no drought, you’ve lost nothing.

One way to prepare is to “get out of your tractor or pickup” to look at pastures, he says. Walk pastures and look for weak areas. Post-drought pastures may need time to recover. Expect weakened stands, thin pastures and lower supplies after drought. Also, expect more weeds.

Halleran gets back to the basics with these steps:

• Be patient. Practice patience when turning cows out onto fresh pastures. Wait until grass is 6-10 inches tall in rotational grazing systems and don’t allow cows to graze plants lower than 2 inches.

• Don’t be too patient. Get the most out of your hay crop by baling before July. Don’t wait too long to frost-seed legumes into pastures. Plant cool-season grasses in fall. Control weeds so that spring forages can compete against weed pressure.

• Act. Make honest calculations and then act. Many producers don’t know the yield of their pastures and don’t allow enough acreage per cow.

• Prevent waste by investing in good storage methods and facilities. Invest in a storage facility for hay, says Halleran, and keep a two-year supply on hand to prepare for drought. “It’s not about a better truck or a better tractor,” he says. “It’s about a hay barn.”

• Test. Before you fertilize, take a soil test. Look at fertilizer options. “Nitrogen isn’t the only fertilizer for sale,” Halleran says. Lime pastures if the test calls for it, and be patient. Lime takes four to six months to activate. Drag pastures to spread nutrients from manure piles across the pasture.

• Plan. Plant cool season grasses in the fall. It is late in the season to seed frost-seed legumes into pastures but plan for next year. Choose drought-resistant grasses. Match stocking rates to feed supply estimates.

• Don’t guess. Know yields of your tall fescue pastures, says Halleran. Most producers don’t have an accurate estimate of yields. They also likely overestimate their usable acreage by not deducting woods, fence lines, ditches, etc. where forages can’t be harvested.

More information is available from the Alliance for Grassland Renewal at in new window). The alliance includes partners from university, government, industry and nonprofit groups.

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