Alabama is facing near drought conditions. Livestock producers are struggling with ways to ensure their animals get enough to eat and drink when grass is limited and the water table is low. Dr. Soren Rodning, the Alabama Extension veterinarian, said that there are certain things that producers should do under drought conditions.
1- Meet Animals’ Water Needs
While cattle can survive for days without food and weeks to months with limited food, Rodning said that water is a more critical need for livestock.
“Cattle can survive a few days without consuming water because of the limited amount of water in their rumen, but this water quickly runs out and needs to be replaced,” said Rodning. “Therefore, cattle need to have access to fresh, clean water on a daily basis.”
Adult cattle consume 10 to 25 gallons of water per day. A lactating animal’s water requirements may increase by 50 percent during hot weather. Producers should check water sources in their pastures on a daily basis to ensure their animals have enough clean, fresh water. Producers using watering tanks might want to install float levels. You can check water levels from a distance rather than having to walk or drive to the tank to check.
2- Check Fencing
Rodning said that cattle in pastures with limited forage and water are much more likely to break through or escape fencing in search of greener pastures. He suggests that producers monitor their pastures closely especially if they border roads or highways.
3- Avoid Accidental Livestock Poisoning
The availability of many forages becomes limited during a drought. Hungry animals may graze on any plants available. Some of these plants may be toxic and could cause death. Nitrate toxicosis is likely during droughts. Nitrates are a major component of fertilizers. Problems occur when plants absorb nitrate from the soil. The plants then cannot convert the nitrate to protein because of a lack of moisture. Nitrate toxicity is also a problem immediately after a rain when drought-stressed plants absorb soil nitrates too quickly. Rodning recommends testing these plants for nitrate content. Producers should keep in mind that nitrate levels in hay or silage are stable and will not decrease with storage.
4- Protection from Heat
Another important consideration is protecting livestock from the extreme heat. Temperatures above 80 degrees F, high humidity and exposure to direct sun can cause problems. Rodning said that producers should make sure their livestock have an adequate amount of shade.
“If pastures lack wooded areas, producers may need to construct open shelters to give animals a shady resting spot,” said Rodning. “Provide enough shade to allow animals to spread out and cool off. If animals are too crowded in the shade, they will not be able to cool themselves sufficiently.”
5- Parasite Control
Controlling parasites is important during droughts. If done, you will reduce the stress and nutritional needs of the livestock. As pastures dry up during the summer, the numbers of worm larvae living on the blades of grass will greatly decrease. However, as cattle graze, they still may ingest some parasite larvae. The parasites will then grow to the adult stage in the animal’s gastrointestinal tract. This is particularly true when cattle graze more closely to the ground.
For more information on how drought can affect your herd, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your county Extension office.