Talk about extremes. Last year we were still talking about planting at this time. This year, first-cutting hay is in the barn and we’re wondering if there will be a second cutting. Forage growth hasn’t been what we have come to expect the last few years. With no rain in the forecast, what is a grazier to do?
Relax. Remember, we’ve been here before -- dry periods are expected, but not enjoyed. Of course, if you just started managing grazing in the last two wet years, consider this a crucial part of your education. Many experienced graziers refer to it as the school of hard knocks.
In these conditions, rotations need to slow down. Grass is growing slower, so it takes longer to start regrowth after being grazed; and it takes longer to reach optimum grazing mass (height) for the next grazing. The number of days grazing a paddock can be increased, as long as you do not overgraze.
The rest period needs to increase as well. For most graziers, this means pulling more acreage into the rotation. Many operators use fields where they made first-cutting hay. Another consideration is unused fields in your area. I get calls every year from landowners looking for producers to mow their fields and take all the hay. They just want it mowed. Check around, many of these could easily be grazed.
Every skilled grazier works to protect their perennial forage resource. Do not overgraze! Of course, overgrazing is something we try to avoid in normal years, but it’s critical in dry ones. Overgrazing during a drought can cause slower recovery when we do get rain, reduced productivity even longer after recovery, and lead to stand loss.
During dry periods, be extremely protective of residual, which is the amount of green forage left after grazing. Residual is an important aspect of managing grazing, and it becomes even more critical in a dry year.
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