Farmers coping with dry pastures

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Most northwest Iowa counties were rated abnormally dry or under moderate drought, going into Friday morning. The conditions have caused major concerns for farmers with livestock on pasture.

“Pasture conditions vary widely, with a few pastures rated as good,” said Beth Doran, beef program specialist with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach. “But, the majority of the pastures are beginning to look more like mid-August, with limited re-growth.”

Beef producers are not out of options, according to Doran.

One way to reduce grazing pressure on the pasture is to reduce the number of animals grazing the pasture. This may involve early weaning of the calves, placing them in dry lot. Early weaning reduces the energy needs of the grazing cow by 30 to 40 percent which helps to stretch the grazing capacity of the pasture. However, if pastures are really short, cows may also need to be placed in dry lot.

If there is some pasture, producers may opt to reduce the forage intake of the calves or cows. Providing creep feed to the grazing calves is a common way to shift a portion of the calf’s diet from grass to grain. 

“Creep feeding helps some, but the biggest user of the pasture is the cow,” Doran said. “Consequently, cow-calf producers may need to provide supplemental feed to the cow while she is grazing the pasture.”

Economics will dictate which supplemental feeds are provided to the cow. Hay is one alternative, but local prices for hay are running from 5 to 15 percent higher than a year ago. Other feeds that may be supplemented include: whole shelled corn, distillers grains or green chopped corn. If the corn is drought-stressed, it should be tested for nitrate level before chopping it and managed accordingly.

“The worst case scenario is to sell some of the cows,” Doran said. “If this is required, remove problem cows first – those that are open; old cows; cows with poor udders, feet or teeth; cows with a bad disposition and poorer producing cows.”

For more information about supplementation strategies and early weaning, visit the Iowa Beef Center at or contact Beth Doran at 712-737-4230 or

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