Above-average rainfall in January, February and May helped Arkansas livestock producers whose hay and forage was stolen last year by drought. Now, though, Nature’s taps have closed and there’s worry about hay for the rest of the year.

“Most cattle producers have baled more hay their first cutting of hay in 2013 than they did all of last year,” said Tom Troxel, associate head-Animal Science for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Many cattle producers will get a second cutting of hay but it will probably be less than normal due to the lower June rainfall amounts.”

Rainfall for Little Rock was above average for January, February and May, while April was below average.

“June’s rainfall 3.28 inches, which was .37 inches below average for the month and most, if not all of the 3.28 inches of rainfall, fell the first weekend of June,” Troxel said. “Many places throughout Arkansas have not received any significant amounts of rainfall since the first weekend of June.”

John Jennings, professor-forages for the university, said that until rain fell on July 11, “We went 38 days with no rain.”

The 0.9 inches that fell in Faulkner County plus “the cooler temps will help, but for any sustained forage growth, more will be needed soon,” he said.

In western Arkansas, Franklin County went without rain for 22 days.

“Franklin County is starting to exhibit signs of drought, with loss of forage stand in pastures,” said Michael Sullivan, county Extension agent. “Grass between grapes in vineyards is dying due to lack of surface water.” 

It’s disappointing for growers who saw lush bermudagrass pastures turn into moonscapes last year. For some it was the first year of drought, for many in western and southwestern Arkansas and the Arkansas River Valley, it was the second straight year for drought.

“We are going backwards fast,” said Phil Sims, Extension staff chair in Pope County, a place that became the face of drought for much of the world in 2012.

Even though pop-up showers are a regular feature during the summer, “hoping for a pop-up shower is like drawing on an inside straight,” Troxel said. “Your chances aren’t very good.” 

“Cattle producers must manage their operations on current conditions,” he said. “Currently pasture conditions are in relatively good shape, but if it fails to rain in the next week to 10 days, pastures will become drought-stressed.”

If rainfall doesn’t arrive soon, many cattle producers will be short of forage for hay and grazing this summer. 

“Cattle producers were very fortunate to have cut an early cutting of hay this season," said Troxel. “Now they must wait on rainfall to see when and if they will get a second cutting of hay. They should be thinking about a drought strategy just in case they don’t get mid-summer rains.”

Troxel recommends:

  • Check pastures to prevent overgrazing, which can lead to reduced cattle performance.
  • Be ready to cull non-productive or low performance cattle if the dry weather continues. Record high cow selling prices continue to be a bright spot.
  • Plan water supplies for the dry times. Cattle require greater amounts of water during hot weather.
  • Wean spring-born calves early can help reduce a cow’s nutritional demands. Remember it’s cheaper to feed a cow and calf separately than it is to feed the cow, which feeds the calf.
  • Even if the weather turns dry, it’s important to provide free choice salt and mineral.
  • Nutrient needs for phosphorus and other minerals and vitamins should be met especially during periods of drought. Provide a good free-choice mineral-vitamin supplement year-round.
  • Environmental conditions that slow plant growth often cause excessive accumulation in plants of nitrate and prussic acid. If forage is suspect, have it tested for these poisons. Most common accumulators of nitrates ranked from highest to lowest are weeds, corn, sorghums, sudangrass, cereal grains, tame forage and legumes. Nitrate accumulates primarily in lower stems. Prussic acid accumulates primarily in the leaves (see here).
  • Continue to follow recommended guidelines for vaccinating cattle, controlling files and other external and internal parasites. Herd heath become more important during times of dry weather.
  • Be careful not to overextend when it comes to feeding during a drought. The price for feed will probably increase as the drought persists.

For additional management strategies for managing beef cattle through dry weather, contact your county Extension agent, or visit www.uaex.edu, or http://arkansaslivestockdotcom.wordpress.com.