Future Forage Potential for Cattle on Pasture

Future Forage Potential for Cattle on Pasture

June 2012

limited forage - poor pasture exampleIt's time to face reality. It's dry, chances of significant rain are slim, and even if it does rain you still will be short of pasture. Let's discuss reality in a moment.

Sometimes it's hard to face reality. You think you'll receive more for your cattle if you wait to sell. You think they will grow faster when fed this pricey supplement. And you think you soon will receive rain to relieve your pasture shortage.

Are you being realistic? Let's be honest, it's dry and pastures are short. But even if it rains, will your pastures grow enough to meet the needs of your cattle?

If your pastures are based on cool-season grasses like needlegrass in the Panhandle or brome and bluegrass in eastern Nebraska, rain will only help a little. These grasses have already been growing over three months this year so they are reacting like it is mid-July instead of mid-June. For the next ten weeks or so they are going to be almost dormant due to summer heat. Very slow growth no matter how much rain or fertilizer they receive. What you have standing in the pasture right now needs to support your cattle at least until September. If it can't, you need to obtain more feed or remove some animals. That's reality.

What about warm-season grasses, like in the Sandhills and many areas of southern Nebraska? Here there is a little more hope, but only a little. These grasses do most of their growing in late June and July. They need lots of rain in the next couple weeks. Even if they get it, though, total production won't catch up with your usual expectations.

This news isn't good, but I doubt that you're surprised. And don't expect that planting something into dry soil will help. Nothing grows without water. So accept reality and act accordingly.

Dr. Bruce Anderson Dr. Bruce Anderson, Professor of Agronomy
Extension Forage Specialist
Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, NE