The drought that is affecting the entire state of North Carolina is resulting in poor pasture conditions, reduced drinking water supplies, and a critical hay shortage in Sampson County. In past droughts we have moved a lot of hay into the state in a relief effort, but this drought is regional, so pasture conditions and hay supplies are also critical in surrounding states.
Due to our poor pasture conditions and short hay supply, it is critical for producers to develop a plan now that will get them through the fall and winter. Paul Gonzalez, livestock agent, has the knowledge of drought management strategies and other animal management considerations and is ready to help you with planning.
Given the current situation, all producers should critically evaluate their herd. First, any calves of marketable size should be sold —- given we are enjoying good calf prices. Any cows that are not pregnant and don’t have a calf should be sold immediately. Older cows with worn teeth and cows that are due to calve late in the calving season should also be considered for early sale.
If the producer plans to stay in the cattle business, he or she should decide which cows they will keep no matter what so they can rebuild their herd in coming years. At a minimum, these would be the replacement heifers and young cows that have shown they can raise a good quality calf. These animals represent the best genetics the producer has, and every effort should be made to feed them appropriately so they raise a calf and breed back on time.
Producers should plan on growing as much forage as they can this fall by using fall fertilization after rains come and/or by planting winter annuals such as rye, wheat, or ryegrass. The producer should also plan to graze the forage they do grow as efficiently as possible using rotational or strip-grazing techniques.
Given the shortage of hay, and likely insufficient pasture, producers should seek out alternative feed sources. Crop residues, such as corn stalks, soybean residue and cotton residue, can be used if rations are properly balanced. Drought-damaged crops, such as corn or soybeans, can also be harvested for silage or hay. Cows can also glean crop fields if toxic weeds are not present.
Alternative concentrates can also be fed as most of the cow’s diet, assuming she does have access to a minimum amount of forage. Corn gluten feed, soybean hulls, and wheat middlings are economical alternative feeds for cows. Other sources of feed may also be available locally. When using unusual feeds, an understanding of feeding management issues is critical so producers are encouraged to ask for advice.
Getting through this drought with a high quality herd in good condition will take careful planning by livestock producers. Your Cooperative Extension agent is prepared to help you as you develop your plan. Animal and crop science specialists across the state are working on strategies to help producers, and the Cooperative Extension center in Sampson County is your front door to this help. Call 592-7161 or come by 55 Agriculture Place for more information.