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Managing Drought Conditions on Grazing Lands

Conservation Priority Report Louisiana

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Managing Drought Conditions on Grazing Lands
This year's drought conditions in Louisiana have caused a severe loss of pasture forages in some areas, and this has resulted in many livestock producers reducing their herd size and others considering it.

If your herd is suffering from drought conditions, consider the following:
Producers generally have two options for meeting the nutrient requirements of cattle on drought affected grazing lands.  The first is to provide supplemental feed to ensure the cow herd has adequate energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals.  The second is to reduce the nutrient requirements of the cow to a point where they can be met with available forage.  One of the simplest ways to reduce cow nutrient requirements is to wean the calf.  This practice can cut nutrient requirement by one-third to one-half depending on milk production of the cow.

If pasture conditions are extremely poor, producers may consider feeding cows in a dry lot or “feeding pasture.”  This will allow other pastures a much needed rest period to begin recovering from drought.  Select a “feeding pasture” convenient to quality water and avoid pastures sensitive to erosion and water runoff directly into streams/bayous.

Animal Health
Cattle water requirements increase during hot weather.  If cattle do not meet their water needs, they may refuse to eat, experience lowered production, and become sick.  Consider fencing ponds, streams, and dugouts to limit livestock access and loitering in water sources.  Also, using livestock watering facilities with well or community water sources is the best approach to having dependable clean water available to your herd.

Drought may force animals to consume plants that are normally avoided and/or poisonous.  Prussic acid and nitrate concentrations in plants will rise with drought stress.  If animals are going to graze sorghum or be fed sorghum that has been baled, it is imperative that the sorghum be tested for prussic acid and nitrates.

A Grazing Management Plan Will Guide Land Managers Through Tough Times
Drought causes long-term effects, and recovery is a long-term process.  To manage successfully under the constant threat of drought, a good grazing management plan with a drought component should be developed during the conservation planning process.  The plan can guide the grazing land manager through both short and prolonged periods of drought. 

For more information about grazing management plans and information on what grazing management decisions you should make after a drought, contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office or Soil and Water Conservation District and ask to speak to a grazing lands specialist.


United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service




During drought conditions, grazing lands suffer from:

  • Increased runoff and erosion

  • A reduction of average carrying capacity

  • The potential of reduced water quality


To Prepare for Drought
Plan for production of emergency forage sources
Maintain flexible herd composition
Establish key points in time when critical forage production decisions must be made
Consider enterprise diversity to reduce risks and offset grazing income losses
Work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a grazing management plan with a drought component!


Quick Links

U.S. Drought Monitor

National Weather Service, Climate Prediction Center - U.S. Drought Assessment

National Drought Mitigation Center


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