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Don't Overgraze During the Drought

If you've got cattle craving some green grass this spring, you might want to take pause before you let them out into your pastures, even if they do look green and healthy. What you're seeing may not be what they need, and it may create the need for you to adjust stocking rates, one expert says.

Take Texas, for example, where more than 90% of the state is under some category of drought condition, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. If you're in a drought area, you may be tempted by pastures that appear green. But, depending on what kinds of grasses are out there, you may be seeing nothing more than weed growth.

"It’s spring, and it’s green out there," says Texas A&M Agricultural Extension forage specialist Larry Redmon. "But most of that green is not grass but weeds, and we have to be very careful with our stocking rates. Only a very few people are using the amount of fertilizer they should be because prices are so high. Hybrid Bermuda grasses must be fertilized or they start to weaken, and other species (forbs or weeds) start moving in to take their place."

That makes it important to first get a feel for what kind of grass stand you have in your rangeland acres. Then, consider adjusting stocking rates to account for any shortage you may have because of the mounting damage from consecutive years of drought. Also critical to reaching the right stocking rate: Making sure you take into account what mix comprises your pasture grass and what it needs to stay healthy.

"If you look at a little bit of east Texas, it looks pretty good. But when you get out of deep east Texas and into the post oak savannahs, the blackland prairies, south Texas, west Texas, north Texas – many of those areas are essentially unchanged from 2011," Redmon says. "If you were in central Texas, west and south, there were a lot of those forages that were destroyed, even with their great drought tolerance. When we start killing redberry juniper out on the plateau, you know it's dry."

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