About 30 Iowa beef producers found out just how bad the drought is this summer. They rode a bus, participating in the 2012 Iowa Beef Tour which traveled through parts of Missouri and southern Illinois July 16-18, where dried up fields and pastures have farmers in a bigger pinch than those in Iowa. Some farms the tour visited have had only 10 inches of rain in the past 12 months.
This is the case near the town of Bowen, in southern Illinois, where Mike McClelland, owner of Panther Creek Ranch, relies heavily on pasture, particularly fescue. "This is the worst drought we've had since at least 1988 or before," he says. "It's tough." McClelland's cattle have done well on fescue, despite its dormancy in hot weather. "Fescue is a grass you've got to get started on early," he says. "It helps to get cows used to it in cool weather. It's a good cool season grass."
Drought has also hit northeast Missouri and Harold Trump's rotational grazing operation near Luray. With drought, his forage could fail to regrow. If this happens, Trump may have to supplement with dry gluten, something he only does if pasture dries up before harvest. "Normally I don't supplement at all."
Keeping cow herd cool despite intense heat, providing ready access to water
Ted Krauskopf, who rotational grazes near Highland, Ill., says with his 34 red Angus cattle typically consuming half an acre per day, the heat has prevented regrowth. "I've used up what I've got and don't have much coming," he says.
Heat stress is another problem for cattle in the hot summer of 2012. Pastured cattle are usually less susceptible than cattle in feedlots. Krauskopf uses his feeder building to provide shade for cattle. The building cost $50,000 and was paid for in part by cost-share help from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "It's nice and cool in there compared to outside," he says. "It has good natural ventilation."
Supplying his herd with rural water, it requires about 6,000 feet of waterline and costs about $80 a month. "It's a good feeling to have cattle drinking clean water," he says, noting the difference from pond water and well water. "I was used to water getting pretty dirty, and the trough having to be cleaned."
Illinois and Missouri cattlemen hit hard by continuing drought this summer
Trevor Toland, owner of River Oak Ranch near Bardolph, Ill., says water supply is especially important for rotational grazing in the heat. "You've got to have drinking water available everywhere. Cattle access to water is critical."
Toland has water sources within at least 800 feet. But with all pasture-based operations, an even bigger problem lies in a lack of regrowth, which means having to use a different rotation. Although he usually moves cattle between his 21 paddocks once every four to five days, he's rotated every six to seven days this summer.
Although the variety of fescue he uses doesn't have trouble, he also uses canarygrass, which has trouble regrowing. "It has grown back pretty slowly," he says. "If not grazed quickly after regrowth, it dries up. Then you don't get anything out of it." One way he handles a lack of regrowth is supplementing a paddock with hay -- something he says should be done with careful consideration, as the paddock may need reseeding.
Iowans are impressed with the management and rotational grazing they saw
Despite the drought, "cattle in this area have done well considering what we've had this year," Toland, the Illinois beef producer noted. The Iowans on this year's tour were impressed with the management of the herds and the producers they visited with in Illinois and Missouri. The Iowans brought back some good ideas they can use in their cattle operations in Iowa.
An Angus producer from Fairfield in southern Iowa who was on the bus trip, Larry Swaim, was surprised by the quality of cattle in these conditions of continued extremely hot, dry weather this summer -- particularly McClelland's herd.
"He had good looking cattle," Swaim says, noting the use of fescue as a forage, which is shunned by cattle producers in Iowa. "It's hard to believe those cattle producers there in southern Illinois and Missouri can get by with so much fescue in their pastures and not have a lot of problems. In Iowa, fescue has caused a lot of problems with cattle health. There's fescue toxicity and the cattle are reluctant to eat it."