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Drought Survival - Supplement Strategies for Livestock
North Dakota Ag Connection - 09/15/2023

Drought conditions are presenting challenges to farmers and ranchers in various parts of North Dakota, prompting them to consider alternative strategies. Currently, 30% of the state is affected by some level of drought, with severe drought (D2) impacting several counties in northern North Dakota. These conditions are leading to reduced forage production and deteriorating pasture quality.

Miranda Meehan, an NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist, notes that Drought-affected pastures and native ranges are struggling to provide enough forage for normal stocking rates. To address this, farmers and ranchers must reduce animal numbers, adjust grazing periods, or supplement feed to compensate for nutrient deficiencies.

Reducing stocking rates can alleviate grazing pressure on range plants, improving their health and pasture quality. It may affect weaning weight, but supplemental feeding is necessary for herd productivity if stocking rates remain unchanged.

Supplementation can help farmers and ranchers maintain stocking rates by extending available forage, but factors like forage supply, protein content, body condition, and cost and availability should be considered when replacing pasture or range intake.

Forage supplies are limited in many areas, so farmers and ranchers should provide at least 0.5% of bodyweight in alfalfa hay daily to replace pasture intake. This is preferred on tame pasture to avoid introducing undesirable plant species on native range.

Grain-based supplements can reduce forage intake but may affect ruminal pH and digestibility due to starch and sugar content. Limit intake to 0.25% bodyweight and roll coarsely before feeding.

Energy supplements should be delivered daily to optimize performance, while fibrous by-product feeds, with lower starch and sugar content, can be supplemented at levels greater than 0. 6% of bodyweight daily to replace pasture or range intake with less negative impact on forage utilization.

In extreme cases of poor pasture conditions, farmers and ranchers may consider drylot feeding as a cost-effective alternative to extensive supplementation. Drylot feeding can also allow pastures to recover from the drought, providing a much-needed rest period.

As farmers adapt to these challenging conditions, their decisions regarding stocking rates and supplementation will be critical in ensuring the well-being of their livestock and the sustainability of their operations.

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