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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

July 5, 2023 - 4:16pm --

Finally, the long drought is over but if we experience another one later in the summer you will be prepared after reading this article. Overgrazing pastures during a drought is hard on the plants and causes them to suffer. Without adequate moisture they are not able to regrow. Chris Zollar, Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Tuscarawas County and Garth Ruff, Extension Field Specialist Beef Cattle have some management practices to help your forage.

Management Suggestions

“While we can’t control when, where, or the amount of rainfall, there are management practices you can take to minimize damage to pastures, while maintaining cattle health and growth.  Please consider the suggestions provided below.

  • Do not overgraze. Plants require leaf area to capture sunlight to complete the photosynthesis process.  Overgrazing will diminish available leaf area and impact root reserves needed to maintain plant growth.
  • Depending upon forage species, plants should be approximately 8” to 10” tall before being grazed – and follow the “take half, leave half” rule.
  • Consider using temporary posts and fencing to reduce paddock size to improve utilization with more frequent pasture rotations.
  • Walk your pastures to observe and eradicate any poisonous plants. When pastures are short, weeds have a chance to outcompete grasses. The goal is to prevent any weeds from developing and then spreading seed.
  • Be prepared to apply nitrogen – when rain is in the forecast. Applying nitrogen without sufficient moisture will result in volatilization.
  • Evaluate available alternative feeds. Whole shelled corn is still an economically viable option to supplement energy given the price of cattle today. Talk to your nutritionist to match animal needs based on stage of production.
  • Buy hay? Seems odd to consider buying hay for most producers in June. Depending on the cost to do so, buying hay could provide a short-term solution. However, if drought persists, the value of hay will certainly increase.
  • Feed hay. If you have hay reserves from 2022, this may be a good opportunity to utilize some of those bales, especially if they have been stored outdoors as their quality is only going to further deteriorate.
  • If feeding hay or supplementing cattle, a sacrifice lot or heavy use pad could be the best place to do so depending on the availability of water.
  • Consider early weaning calves. Calves that are at minimum 90 days of age can be weaned if feed resources are of short supply. Wean calves onto a predominantly hay based diet and slowly introduce and increase the percentage of grain. Monitor body condition, if marketing feeder cattle, be careful to not over condition.
  • Cull part of the herd, especially those with health issues, difficult breeders, poor udders, feet and leg problems, and those cows that are a Body Condition Score of 4 or less. It is a challenge to add body condition often in a good year to consistently thin cows. Culling cows for any of the above criteria allows more forage for higher producing animals.”

Try to avoid mowing pastures during a drought. If you mow fields without adequate moisture, you run the risk of fields turning brown and going dormant sooner. When you wait to mow you have more vegetation on the surface that helps keep the soil cooler and it holds moisture better.

As of last week, Wayne County was considered in a moderate drought. Early this week parts of Wayne County received between 1 inch to 2.5 inches of much needed rain. Hopefully this article will help you prepare for a future drought.

Sheldy Tedrow is an Ag & Natural Resources Program Assistant and can be reached at or 330-264-8722.
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