Drought tools on hand for cattle producers

South Dakota State University Extension offers quality testing and grazing exchanges.

July 7, 2021

3 Min Read
Cattle in field stricken by drought
OPTIONS AVAILABLE: SDSU Extension has numerous resources available for producers working through drought conditions. Grazing Exchange can help producers find land for cattle to graze, while the QuikTest can be administered to test forage quality. Jacqueline Nix/Getty Images

South Dakota State University Extension has resources available for producers concerned with grazing and forage quality, as more than 63% of South Dakota is now labeled as being in a severe drought or extreme drought region. While the intense heat and lack of precipitation is creating an adverse growing season for farmers, the weather conditions are also not conducive for putting up high-quality forage.

Grazing exchange

The South Dakota Grazing Exchange is a resource available to connect crop and livestock producers while improving soil health. This tool was created by the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition as a way to return livestock to the landscape. Livestock integration plays a key role in the five principles of soil health:

  1. soil cover

  2. limited disturbance

  3. diversity

  4. living roots

  5. livestock integration

Grazing reduces nutrient export from crop and hay fields, and recycles nutrients, while aiding in weed suppression. As the use of cover crops in cropping systems grows in South Dakota, and cattle producers continue to seek additional perennial and annual forages, the South Dakota Grazing Exchange serves as a connection tool for both forage and cattle producers.

The South Dakota Grazing Exchange is a free, easy-to-use online map that offers a platform for producers throughout the state and region to connect. Information is categorized based on forage and livestock grazing opportunities.

The website provides forage growers free advertising of available grazing acres and details associated with the land parcels. Livestock growers ca post details regarding animals they are willing to relocate for grazing.

QuikTest for forage quality

“With the current drought conditions across the state, the risk of high nitrates in forages is increased due to slowed photosynthesis and conversion of nitrate into proteins,” says Adele Harty, cow-calf field specialist for South Dakota State University Extension.

SDSU Extension encourages producers to get standing forages tested before being harvested for hay or grazing. Available at various SDSU Extension locations and veterinary clinics across the state, the Nitrate QuikTest for Forages allows producers to make decisions based on the presence or absence of nitrates and appropriate timing for cutting.

“This is a qualitative test,” Harty says. “Therefore, if the results are positive, the recommendation will be to wait a few days and bring an additional sample in for retesting. If it is negative, the hay can be cut without risk of nitrates.”

If the hay has already been cut and it tests positive, Harty says the recommendation is to send in a core sample after the hay is baled, so that a representative sample can be collected and sent to a lab for quantitative analysis before feeding.

A representative sample needs to be taken from different areas across the field to reflect topography and soil differences, as these factors can affect nitrate levels. Harty advises selecting plants from at least 10 different areas and cutting the plant at ground level or pulling it out of the ground so that the lowest growth nodes can be tested, as the highest concentration of nitrate is in the lowest third of the plant. The more representative the sample, the better the test will work to identify potential nitrate concerns, she says.

“Be diligent about testing forages prior to haying or grazing to prevent the negative impacts that nitrates can cause, specifically in ruminant animals,” Harty says. “If crops, such as wheat, fail to make grain, and producers plan to utilize them for a hay crop, test them for nitrates prior to harvest to determine their safety level. The higher the level of nitrogen fertilizer that is applied, the higher the risk for nitrate toxicity. Always err on the side of caution and have feeds tested.”

To get a Nitrate QuikTest completed, contact your local Extension office. For specific questions on the test, contact Harty at 605-394-1722 or [email protected] or Jaelyn Quintana at 605-394-1722 or [email protected].

Source: SDSU, which is responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and its subsidiaries aren't responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.


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