|Planning for Droughts|
|Written by Julie Elliott, NRCS rangeland management specialist|
Earlier in this series, I said grazers need to walk each of their pastures to determine how good the range might be this year. Since acres do not feed cows—only grass feeds cows—we need to determine how much grass is out there. When on the range you need to look down, not across, so you can see how much and what kinds of grasses are out there.
The abundance of dead grass plants, bare ground and litter are also important to notice and document. Dead grasses have a black or dark gray color in winter and summer. The more litter cover and less bare ground we have, the faster our range will recover.
While 2013 was the best fall in a few years, it did not undo the substantial root losses from the two (or more) previous summers. The grasses that were dead are still dead. There was very little opportunity for root growth.
Every grazing decision you make should be set against these questions. If I do X, will it help me to: a) increase the number of new plants, b) leave plants tall enough to capture snow and slow down wind speeds at the surface of the ground, c) increase the amount of litter cover and d) decrease bare ground?
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(This article is the fifth in a six-part series adapted from a presentation given on Jan. 9 in Garden City, Kan., on “Planning for Extreme and Extended Drought on the Farm and Ranch.” To watch and listen to this presentation and others on the weather outlook and drought go to: http://drought.unl.edu/ranchplan/Overview/Resources/ExtendedExtremeDroughtWorkshop.aspx.)