As beneficial as late spring moisture was for Virginia pastures and cattle performance, we annually brace ourselves for the heat and many times the dryness of our July and August. This seasonal decline in pasture and cattle performance during this period is usually called “summer slump”. Infected Kentucky 31 tall fescue gets most of the blame and is certainly a major contributor, but there are other factors in addition to fescue toxicity that come into play and contribute to this seasonal slump. Unfortunately, this year dry conditions across parts of Virginia have escalated pasture conditions from summer slump to a simple shortage of available forage.
Different strategies exist for each situation. If there is adequate forage available, but quality is suspect, consider the following management suggestions:
If drought has severely limited forage availability, one of the most effective strategies is to wean spring calves early. Calves can be retained and offered the best remaining pasture and limited feed while dry cows can rough it on low quality forages or poor quality hay. Early weaning reduces both the quantity and quality of forage that a cow requires. Calves weaned early can quickly adjust to palatable rations and are very efficient in their feed conversion. Early weaning also allows culling of open cows from the herd. Pregnancy diagnosis will identify open cows which can then be sold saving the remaining forage for your pregnant cows. This is also an excellent time to cull any other undesirable cows.
In closing, remember every drought is followed by a good rain. In the midst of dealing dry times, don’t forget to plan for fertilization and stockpiling of tall fescue for the upcoming fall and winter.
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
August 9, 2010