Droughts pose a serious threat to livestock and farming operations due to the inability to provide sufficient water to animals and the feed required to keep these animals alive.
Droughts can be categorized based on the population it impacts:
- Meteorological droughts are determined by the degree, duration, and other characteristics of the dry weather period
- Agricultural droughts link the meteorological droughts to agricultural impacts, accounting for soil and plant properties
- Hydrological droughts are related to the effects of dryness on surface and ground-water supplies
Producers can take the following actions to prepare for low water and drought conditions:
- Develop a drought plan. Drought plans should identify the group or class of livestock to be depopulated first if necessary and at what point each group will be removed if the drought persists. This also includes noting any potential toxic or poisonous plants present in the grazing/ pasture lands which may become more prevalent due to the drought conditions
- Formulate a selling policy to help deal with classes of animals that are eligible for sale and the rate at which they are brought to market. Check for animals which are pregnant and that are younger in age.
- Wean calves as early as possible. This is important because this will allow heifers and cows to stay in better body condition
- Combine groups of animals for grazing. This will concentrate more animals in a single herd which decreases the number of paddocks/pastures being used at any one time
- Use instrumentation such as level sensors or rain gauges to measure how much water your crops
- Ensure the irrigation system doesn’t water faster than the ground can absorb
If low water/ drought conditions arise the following broad points can be applied to help reduce the risk of livestock problems and manage water until a permanent solution can be implemented.
- Consider reducing herd size to reduce the required amount of forage, feed and water required to keep the animals alive and healthy. Consider marketing healthy cattle to reduce stock
- Check for pregnant cows and potentially wean calves off faster to reduce water and feed consumption rates
- Feed and water testing are especially important during times of drought since uncommonly used water sources maybe used (e.g., dugout water)
- Extended rest periods and increased recovery times are necessary to protect plants during dry periods
- Attempt to leave plant residue/ litter on the soil surface to help moisture loss, shading and erosion from the elements to encourage plant forage growth and recuperation
- Locate areas where poisonous plants continue to grow as various species grow faster during drought conditions
- Seeding annuals as an emergency source of forage to supplement perennial pastures may be an option during periods of drought.