Moisture nice, heat units needed
By LARRY KERSHNER
ORANGE CITY – Beth Doran’s “wind-chilled’ assessment of pastures in Northwest Iowa is bleak.
“Right now,” said Doran, an Iowa State University Extension beef specialist, based in Sioux County, “pastures have not emerged. It’s way too cold.”
Even though the region has received topsoil moisture in rain and snow in the past two weeks, the average temperatures range in double digits below normal, Doran said.
According to ISU’s NPKnowledge website, soil temperatures for the northwest corner of the state ranged, on Monday, from 38 to 41 degrees.
North central Iowa’s soil temperatures ranged from 43 to 47 degrees, with Hamilton and Hardin counties leading the region.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture listed, on April 22, Northwest topsoil moisture as 70 percent adequate. However, subsoil moisture is still at 32 percent adequate.
“That’s a big difference,” Doran said. “And without timely rains this growing season, the subsoil moisture won’t be available to help pastures recover from 2012’s extreme drought conditions.
“There is some greening,” she said, “but that’s not real growth.”
With quality feed at a premium and hard to source all winter, the temptation may be to turn cattle out on drought-damaged grass too soon.
Doran recommends delaying grazing until grass reaches at least 3 to 4 inches and to reduce animals numbers by 20 to 30 percent.
She urged livestock producers to resist the temptation of turning grazing stock out too soon, especially cattle.
“It will set the pastures back even further,” she said. “It will set them back even further.
“Besides, 3 inches is not much for a cow to wrap her tongue around.”
Doran said cattle producers have been using a variety of feeding options following the hit forage took on nutritional content during last summer’s drought.
These included chopping corn early for silage last summer, as well as baling corn stalks and grinding them and mixing in distiller’s dried grain to supplement the nutrition.
She said others have added calcium hydroxide to help cattle rumens to break down forage further and aid in better digestion.
This spring, she said, some producers are considering leaving their cows in dry lot longer, while releasing calves into pastures.
“Calves won’t eat as much,” Doran said. “But some may have to keep both in dry lot.”
Still others are considering transporting cattle to neighboring states with better pasture conditions.
That would most likely be Minnesota, she said, since Nebraska’s and the Dakotas’ pastures went into winter as dry as Iowa.
“We didn’t get any pasture recovery before winter,” she said.
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