We're now heading into early summer, but the summer drought of 2011 is still fresh in the cattle industry’s mind.

Veterinarians can help their cow-calf producers plan ahead in the event of drought this summer. One strategy is to feed cows summer annuals such as millets, sudangrass, and canes, suggests Rick Rasby, MS, PhD, University of Nebraska Extension Beef Specialist.

Speaking at last summer’s Academy of Veterinary Consultants meeting, Rasby said there may be the opportunity to harvest summer annuals as a forage crop.

One of the primary objectives for the cow-calf enterprise is to stay profitable during a drought, he said. “This is usually a challenge as harvested forages are in low supply causing the cost of these forages to be expensive.”

Rasby says if summer annuals are going to be grazed, use the following “rules of thumb”:

  • Fill cows up with hay prior to the turnout on the summer annual.
  • Don’t force cattle to eat the base of the stalk. Nitrates are going to accumulate at is the lower 4-8” of the stalk.
  • Wait to graze until it’s at least 18-24” tall to avoid problems with prussic acid. If summer annuals go through freezing temperature, wait for about 5-7 days after freeze so you get around prussic acid. Be aware that there is a greater concentration in new growth. The wilting process will reduce the prussic acid content of the annuals.

“If you don’t have a plan then you are hoping for the best,” Rasby says. “If you don’t have a drought plan you typically wait too long to react.”

Read information on management and prevention of prussic acid toxicity in Bovine Veterinarian here.