Tips for livestock farmers during a drought

Farming during a drought is a challenging and stressful time and activity for farmers. It brings about a change in many, if not all, farming processes and calls for innovation and smart farming practices.

Luckily, there are ways for farmers to protect their crops and even their livestock during a drought period.

This article will be focussed specifically on livestock farmers and what they can do to protect these
assets during drought periods.

Start To Save

It pays to be proactive. And in the case of livestock farming in a drought, it pays to save money and
start a “drought fund” before things get incredibly difficult. 

What you need to understand is that the cost of everything will rise during a drought period. 

Water tariffs and livestock feed, for example, will rise in cost and if you don’t have a stack of savings by then, you’ll be forced to cull from your stock or you’ll risk losing them all to drought-related illnesses and conditions.

Another element you can start saving on in the meantime is hay bales.
Having a hay-reserve on-hand will help when it comes to ensuring there is always a source of feed for your livestock.

Also, the price of hay bales is one of the costs that will go up as the drought develops and you would
rather save on that cost and spend the money where it is needed elsewhere.

Create Shaded Areas

Heat stress in your animals is a common reality when drought periods come to visit and there is limited water and loads of sun.

Unfortunately, you can’t install air conditioners in the fields and hope they work to keep your livestock cool.

What you can do is create shaded areas or restrict your herds to areas that already have plenty of shade.
This will prevent heat stroke, exhaustion and stress to some degree.

 It will also be a smart idea to build drought-proof water sites that aren’t in the middle of nowhere where your livestock needs to travel long distances in the heat to get to.

There should also be shaded coverings for these water points as an effort to reduce evaporation and
keep the water drinkable.
Letting them wander by night as opposed to being crowded in a barn can also help the animals deal with heat stress.

Have a restricted area around the barn to allow them the freedom to walk outside for some fresh air and personal space. 

Focus On The Feed

Feed is generally the main problem (aside from water shortage) that arises during a drought. No amount of feed should be wasted by careless distribution and there may come a time when alternative feed sources need to be incorporated. Supplements will need to be given to your livestock to keep them strong, healthy and somewhat drought-resistant. By using a feed mixer you can ensure that nutrients from the feed are equally distributed. Schedule feeding rations and times for your animals to limit the amount of feeding that happens over the drought period as a means of prolonging your feeding supplies.

Manage Your Pastures

Grazing can become a problem in the drought period because there is less or slowed grass growth.
But managing them now will help when the time comes to rejuvenate the pastures after the drought.

A few pasture management tips to consider and implement to maintain both your pastures and
livestock in a drought include:

Daily grazing:  By implementing daily grazing in smaller grazing paddocks (achieved through
fencing), you’ll be allowing pastures a recovery period. Having more cattle in a smaller area will
also encourage them all to eat in competition before all the grass is gone for the day.
That’s why combining herds is another pasture-managing tactic.
It will also lead to less fencing costs and easier budgeting of pasture reserves and allow the
grass enough time to recover.

Remaining stubble:  A good practice to encourage your pastures to keep growing is to leave as
tall grass stubble as possible. Keeping your stubble between 15 and 25cm can protect your soil
by helping it to retain moisture and hold-out for a longer period of time in the drought.
And this can be achieved through daily grazing rotations.

Have a hay-break: If you notice that your pastures are struggling to keep up with the grazing
demands and isn’t growing at a fast enough rate, have a hay-break.
Feeding your livestock hay for a couple weeks will give your pastures a break and allow them
to regrow before the next grazing rotation.

Culling and Destock When Necessary

A reality that many livestock farmers don’t want to face is having to destock and cull their livestock
when the circumstances are absolutely necessary.

Not every livestock asset will be able to adapt to the drought-farming regulations of crowded grazing,
rationed feed and the stress of the heat.

 There will be animals that grow weaker and they should be the first to go when culling considerations are in place. You need to think of your breeding core and not allow other livestock to threaten those core animals that will carry you through the drought and pick your farm back up when it’s over.
But before culling becomes necessary, first consider destocking and selling the assets you can while
they are still viable. Understand that many farmers will be doing the same thing so the profit behind
selling your livestock shouldn’t be a high expectation.

 Drought is a difficult time for many, but mostly for farmers. At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do and then it’s up to hoping for rain and shorter drought-period.

Michelle Jones
1 The Crescent, Durbanville

Website | + posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.