Cattle Numbers May Need Adjusted for Pasture Health

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Dr. Bruce Anderson says livestock producers will be facing more than dry soils and an unpromising forecast come spring.

"Many of the pastures were weakened a lot last year by very heavy grazing due to the drought and so because of that weakness the plants aren't going to be able to produce as much this year as what they normally would," says the UNL Extension Forage Specialist.

Anderson told attendees at the annual Farmers and Ranchers Cow/Calf College to set their expectations low and start off with fewer animals per acre. But they may need to adjust more if the drought continues.

He says if downsizing the herd won't work then now is the time to consider feed alternatives.

"I think this might be a year when using some annuals or even small grains like oats - to take opportunities when they present ourselves with some moisture, to grow something that we can either feed during shortages during the summer or to rebuild our hay supplies," says Anderson.

The conversation between experts and producers took place at the US Meat Animal Research Center near Clay Center where officials there are also trying to figure out ways to keep more cattle on less land.

"We don't have the luxury of depopulating like other ranches may have because of the value in the animals that we do have in research projects and experimental designs that are currently going on," says USMARC Director Dr. John Pollak.

Pollak says they've been working with experts like Anderson since 2010 to understand better grazing management programs. But Anderson says even those good practices might not be enough if the drought lingers.

"Put pencil to paper real closely as to what we can afford to purchase in terms of extra feed supplies and how many animals we can afford to keep in order to keep the bottom line and the economics somewhat positive for us," says Anderson.

More producers may be looking to lease pasture this summer too. Extension educators say good communication before renting or leasing is key in case those herd adjustments need to be made.