Adapting your cattle operation to drought conditions

Grant Lastiwka pointed out how the different maturation dates of species can work to cattle producers advantage when they plant cocktail crops for forage purposes. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALBERTA AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY

Share Adjust Comment Print

Chris Eakin/Fairview Post

Grant Lastiwka pointed out how the different maturation dates of species can work to cattle producers advantage when they plant cocktail crops for forage purposes.PHOTO COURTESY OF ALBERTA AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY

Grant Lastiwka wants farmers to be aware of the resources available for them to consult and possibly lean on for support during this drought period.PHOTO COURTESY OF ALBERTA AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY

In an online presentation organized by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Dianne Westerlund of Chinook Applied Research Association (CARA) and Grant Lastiwka, forage extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture spoke about challenges facing cattle producers as a result of drought and possible solutions.
Westerlund said after last year’s drought, many producers were hoping for and possibly expecting improved conditions, which did not materialize.
This spring is one of the driest in 100 years, but is not that unusual, especially in the arid southern area of Alberta. Westerlund said, “We are last year’s country,” explaining she meant last year’s weather affects this year’s crop.
Many producers did not make the adjustments they might have made in terms of selling off herds to adjust for the amount of feed available, though some of them have been culling their herds hard now. Lots of pastures were severely overworked last year and stressed pastures need time to recover, not just rain.
She advised producers to delay going into native pasture as long as possible, and to move cows into areas they don’t usually go, using salt placement and watering troughs to encourage them. She added those with children who like to ride, can use their children to help move the cattle into those areas and control where they are feeding.
Other possible solutions: seek pasture elsewhere, call your neighbours to see if they have any unused pasture. She cautioned producers to get an agreement in writing that spelled out who is responsible for what, as well as making sure they know what species of plant their cattle will be feeding on, make sure there are fences where needed and make sure the deal makes sense economically. She also said trucking is not free, so the cost of transporting the cattle to other pasture had to be considered.
With poor haycrops, she said hay might be better used as pasture but added do not put so much pressure on hayland it won’t recover.
Other options included supplemental feeding with high protein and/or energy sources – pellets, bales, creepfeed.
Bloating could be a problem if the pasture land they use contains alfalfa.
She cautioned them to look closely at the economics, to keep an eye on weeds which can be difficult to manage on native pastures. She added they would have to consider a “sacrifice area” to consider for feeding bales etc. as that area would be considerably damaged by the cattle trampling it.
If leasing land, be sure you are aware of any restrictions on the use.
Sell down, cull your herd hard, but keep in mind what you want from your herd in terms of genetics and be strategic. Use it as an opportunity to get rid of problem cattle.
Wean your calves early as cows that aren’t lactating don’t eat as much.
Possible problems that accompany drought: invasive weeds, especially around gopher mounds and dug out spoil., poisonous plants: seaside arrowgrass, Death Camas, Larkspur and locoweed are some producers need to be aware of and on the lookout for.
Water can also be a problem, with dugout water levels and other water sources going down, sulphate levels can go up, making the water unacceptable for cattle. She suggested producers contact their local research association for information on water testing
She added that annual crops might be the best source of forage this year, saying it’s better than nothing.
Grant Lastiwka spoke more about possible crops, saying a group decided to take advantage of the grey hairs and experience available in the province to go to for advice, adding one thing to do if looking for pasture land is to look at moisture maps, to see which areas have land in better condition. He also said perennial forages really struggled last year and cumulative rainfall was very low in many areas, except for pockets.
He echoed Westerlund in saying grain crops may turn out to be worth more as silage crops and a feed resource than as crops.
One question his group is looking at is “Could we have better crops for better soil health?” He said some of what they have found out didn’t add up, which he found fascinating. Research by Akim Omonkanye has found that a minimum of three different species are needed to increase production (his research paper is available through North Peace Beef and Forage Association.
He suggested producers try looking at things from a land-management perspective, and go for multiple benefits from multiple species, as there is a synergy developed by different combinations of species.
He showed photos of two fields seeded at the same time, one was triticale by itself, the other was triticale seeded with other crops. The cocktail seeded field was lush and green while the monoculture field looked quite poor. Although triticale is known for it’s drought tolerance, it still does better under drought conditions seeded as a crop cocktail.
He said producers could try to stack the yield over a longer season, showing how different crops mature at different times of the year. Some crops could be seeded later in the year to yield forage or silage in the fall (millet seeded at the end of June looked good by the end of July).
He also suggested producers considering seeding a crop cocktail talk to their local seed companies as those companies are beginning to market crop cocktails now.
He also told producers they need to look after themselves, keep themselves and their families strong so they can make the best decisions, keep friendships and family relationships strong for the support they offer.
He reminded them of the Western Canada Conference on Soil Health and Grazing in Edmonton Dec. 10, 11 and 12 (check www.absoilgrazing.com) and told them to remember the resources that are available such as the Alberta Ag Info Centre (310-farm (3276), www.beefresearch.ca, www.domore.ag, www.alberta.ca/farm-safety-program.aspx. He also mentioned the Farm Stress Line 1-800-667-4442.

Comments