Beef cattle graze in field

Cattle are masterful at taking what humans can’t digest and turning it into quality protein that’s digestible as well as packed with nutrients.

Dry conditions will likely alter normal fall grazing options this year.

Daren Redfearn, Extension forage agronomist with the University of Nebraska, says many operations will have no choice but to substantially overgraze some pastures. However, he says producers need to leave enough grass on the pastures to prevent soil erosion.

“Typically these pastures can stand a little overgrazing since there was moisture in the soil when the dry weather started,” Redfearn says.

He says in areas with prolonged drought, heavy rains are going to be needed for any chance of regrowth prior to the fall grazing season.

“If we don’t see rain soon, we probably will lose that opportunity for regrowth,” Redfearn says. “It’s likely going to be very slow to nonexistent this fall.”

Any forage left could be very low in quality, he adds, meaning it will likely be next spring before normal quality returns.

“And it’s going to be slow. You will probably need an extra six weeks to get it there,” Redfearn says. “Don’t get too greedy. These plants need time to recover.”

In regions of the Midwest where precipitation is closer to normal, producers still need to carefully manage grass stands.

“Ideally at this time you are able to give the pastures some rest,” says Denise Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist based in Vinton.

She says once cows are removed from the pastures in the fall, they could go into a drylot or harvested cornfield.

Storm-damaged corn may also be an option, although she says producers need to be careful to avoid toxins.

“Some are chopping it into silage, hay, baleage,” she says, “but you need to do it safely.”

Cover crops might also present a fall grazing opportunity.

“If you were able to interseed in late August and you get enough rain, you should have some great options for fall grazing,” Schwab says. “But if rain is not in the picture, you should probably just save your money.”

Weaning calves early could also stretch out pastures and relieve grazing pressure, she says.

Now is also a good time to deal with biennial thistles, Schwab says, adding the expense may be prohibitive for some producers.

Redfearn says fertilizing pastures may also help stretch grazing.

“A little extra nitrogen could help, especially on pastures that were not severely overgrazed,” he says. “If you have rain in the forecast, it could provide you with a grass boost.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.