Livestock producers in dry conditions need to evaluate forage production

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS, S.D. – For livestock producers in abnormally dry areas of the state, it may be time to evaluate forage production in order to make appropriate plans so that demand matches curtailed forage supply.

“If forage is short, adjustments should be made to livestock numbers to reduce forage demand before the situation becomes critical,” said Ken Olson, Professor & SDSU Extension Beef Specialist. “Small adjustments now can prevent the need to make large herd reductions later if drought conditions expand or worsen.”

Olson explained that a good drought management plan has trigger dates that outline actions to be taken based on weather conditions and forage production,” Olson explained that two frequently used trigger dates have already passed: early and late spring.

He explained that the early spring trigger is based on soil moisture and winter precipitation and the late-spring trigger date would be around the same time that livestock are turned out to summer pasture.

“Across most of South Dakota, spring conditions were likely not dry enough to trigger any drought decisions at those times,” Olson said. “However, as we move into late June and the end of the window for cool-season vegetation growth in the Northern Plains, we are now at a third and important trigger date.”

Action alternatives

For producers in regions that have moved from normal moisture conditions to abnormally dry or more serious drought status, this is a critical time to consider taking action, Olson said.

Based on climate predictions, Olson said sporadic showers will likely continue across South Dakota. “These will give a sense of relief, but are unlikely to provide meaningful changes in soil moisture or yield significant additional forage production,” he said.

Olson explained further that based on research, nearly all of the forage production on South Dakota’s cool-season dominated rangelands is complete by the end of June.

“Thus, forage supply for the current growing season has already accumulated. Additional precipitation received for the rest of the summer will only marginally influence pasture feed supply,” he said.