April's Ag Advice by April Borders One of the risks in farming and ranching is based on whether drought occurs and how we deal with it. Good range and pasture management will minimize the effects of drought when it occurs. A lack of available forage would indicate that the range and pasture management practices should be reviewed in relation to stocking rates and the amount of litter or forage residue maintained. Regardless of how a drought is defined, dealing with it is serious business. To successfully manage in the face of drought, a producer needs to know how drought will affect plants, livestock, and management practices.
It is important to establish and maintain a strong stand of forages regardless of the grazing patterns. Pastures with poor forage stands are more susceptible to erosion, livestock damage, or weed invasion. A thick, healthy pasture is not only pleasing to the eye, it also allows livestock to more efficiently utilize the forage.
The management of a perennial pasture, both native range and tame pasture, is different than that of annuals. Perennial pasture offers some protection against the variation in production of annual plants.
Past grazing practices have a large bearing on what happens to a perennial pasture during a drought. Moderate use develops deep-rooted forage plants. Heavy use develops plants with shallow roots. Forage production dramatically decreases during drought, and shallow rooted plants are affected sooner and to a greater degree than the more deeply rooted ones. A healthy deep-rooted plant will be less dependent on frequent precipitation than a shallow-rooted plant.
Carry over or litter left at the end of a grazing season is also important. Litter left in the pasture reduces the soil temperature and therefore reduces evaporation. Although litter is low in nutrients and has low palatability, it can be used by livestock when forage is limited. The green forage growing through the litter will raise the nutrient level of the litter and make it more acceptable to cattle. A deliberate decision needs to be made about maintaining the litter level in the pasture. If litter in perennial pasture is not maintained, it becomes more dependent on frequent precipitation during the growing season, as is the case in annual crops. For this reason, forage yield become less predictable on a yearly basis and the carrying capacity of the range or pasture more uncertain.
Ranchers should adopt the philosophy that pasture production is their business. The health of their pastures is the most important aspect of ranching. Previous history is important to how severe management has to react to the threat of impending drought.
In order to help producers make proper decisions, a series of "Range and Pasture Management" clinics will be held across the state this month. Livestock producers in southeast South Dakota can attend the clinic at the Parker Community Building on Wednesday, Feb. 12 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The same program will be held at the Platte Livestock Sales Barn on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 3 to 9 p.m.
South Dakota State University Extension specialists and county educators will conduct these regional programs to help livestock producers manage drought and drought recovery. Discussion topics will include control of invasive weeds, marketing and business decisions related to drought and drought recovery, pasture recovery alternatives, annual or alternative forages, fertilization, and grazing management. Restocking alternatives, matching livestock to their environment, water quality issues, and economics of various water development alternatives will also be highlighted.
The programs are open to the public. If you plan to attend, contact your local Extension Office so meal arrangements can be made. For more information call the Clay County Extension Office at 677-7111.