How does drought affect livestock?

We had another great question come in to the blog from a reader:

Q: How does drought affect livestock?

A: Drought affects livestock in several ways. With less water feeding the natural dams and grasses, there will be less natural forages available in the pastures for them to consume. This may mean supplementing with hay or protein to get them through the summer. We know that cows will graze the highest quality forages first, so the quality of readily available forages for them to consume declines as the drought time increases.

Another affect of drought is culling (i.e. selling at the local sale barn) your herd so that you do not have to provide additional supplements, or not as many. If this is the case, we would cull in this order: open old cows, problem cows, open young cows, bred aged cows and so on. We hate to have to cut back our herd, but it happens.

With the decline in quality forages comes a decline in overall animal performance. This could mean less pounds gained, a decreased conception rate – especially in first-calf heifers, and could lead to early weaning to protect the performance and condition of the cow.

What do you do when you get hot? You look for a cool place in the shade to rest, find something cool to drink and stay there. Animals can do much of the same, and when they are hiding out under the trees or cooling off in the pond, they are not out eating grass and gaining more weight.

In short, drought can have lasting effects on not only our livestock, but on the forages that they consume. By keeping a close eye on their body condition, the amount and quality of grasses available and the water supply, we do a better job of increasing or maintaining the quality and re-productivity of our herd in the long run.

– Ben and Jamie Keep, Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Committee members and Howard County Farm Bureau members

Keep asking great questions! Our Nebraska farmers and ranchers look forward to explaining what they do every day to produce safe food for you and your family.

Learn more about ag families in Nebraska by visiting And while there, be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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