A University of Nebraska at Lincoln forage specialist is helping producers find long-term changes they can make to work with the limited water supply caused by extreme drought.
After many ponds and creeks dried up last summer, many cattle producers were left with little in the way of reliable water sources. UNL forage specialist Bruce Anderson says spring rains may replenish those sources, but that this may be a good time to develop wells or pipelines to put water into tanks.
Cattle may even prefer tank water as it may be cooler and easier to access than ponds or creeks.
Tank water is often healthier for cattle, and they usually prefer it. When cows walk into ponds and creeks, they stir mud and sediments into the water and often deposit waste.
"No wonder calves consistently choose tank water over ponds when given a choice," Anderson said.
Reports show that the higher water quality found in tanks provides a boost in cattle gains. Calves can weigh an extra 50 pounds at weaning when tank water is available, and yearling steers can gain an extra three- to four-tenths of a pound per day.
It would only take a few years for the investment to pay off with the added boost to the cattle, and may have an even quicker effect with dried up water sources.
Another related way producers can adjust to water shortages, according to Anderson, is to grow limited irrigation forages rather than a grain crop. Many irrigated acres may not receive enough water this summer to grow a good grain or root crop.
"Sometimes you can combine water allocated for several fields onto one field to get a crop, but that still leaves the other acres with little or no water at all," Anderson explained.
Forage crops also need water for highest production, but at least some useful yield can be gathered when water availability is very low.
A perennial forage would eliminate the cost and time of establishing a new crop if water limits continue for several more years.
According to Anderson, switchgrass is one good choice. It's less expensive to plant, its primary water needs occur in early summer when water tends to be more available, and it can be managed for hay or pasture. Other warm-season grass options include big or sand bluestem and indiangrass.
"It may not be what you hoped for, but growing forages under limited irrigation may help you make the best out of a bad situation."
Courtesy- University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources