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This year, many southern states in the
nation, especially Texas, are experiencing the worst drought on
record. Several farmers may resort to sell their cattle to keep
their farms afloat during these hard economic and dry times.
According to Dr. Kevin Washburn, associate professor at the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
(CVM), there are steps that owners can take to save money and
ensure their cattle are staying healthy living off the weathered
The first thing to remember during the
summer months is to provide adequate shade and clean water for
cattle. While this seems obvious, trees are not as plentiful in
some pastures and water sources are compromised because of the
heat. If trees are sparse on your land, you can build loafing sheds
for your cattle, or there are commercially available free standing
shades to provide escape from direct sunlight.
"Sheds or free standing shades are
better than barns to protect cattle in the hot months," explained
Washburn. "The higher the roof, the better, because it allows for
wind to flow under for better cooling. Barns tend to be enclosed
and don't allow for very much air flow."
Standing water in a lake or tank may
not be an adequate drinking source for your cattle. Especially in
drought areas, when the water levels fall and mud is present, the
water may become stagnant and unpalatable. It is best to provide a
water source that can be cleaned and refilled on a regular
The best type of food for your cattle
in the late and dry summer months is good quality grass hay. If
there is limited hay available, owners can also feed cattle cubes
as a supplement. It is necessary to offer a food source like grass,
hay, or cubes not only to meet nutritional needs, but also because
cattle may resort to eat the only green plants available, which
often are weeds. Many of these weeds, unfortunately, are toxic to
livestock. The most common poisonous pasture plants in the southern
region of the United States are: coffee senna, twin leaf senna,
pigweed, curly dock, oak leaves, old acorns, sneezeweed, broomweed,
lobelia, and silver leaf nightshade.
"These toxic plants can be monitored
and sprayed," said Washburn. "However, be careful when spraying for
weeds, because the chemicals may make the toxic plants even more
palatable actually increasing consumption."
If hay is not available, Washburn
recommends contacting a producer co-operative as they have a
network of sources where producers can purchase hay. The downside
to this method is the cost. The hay sources are often far away
requiring shipping at a premium price.
Washburn suggests supplying balanced
mineral mixes free choice and cattle cubes that are 20 to 40
percent protein. This can help reduce the amount of hay required
when supplies are limited.
In order to stave off starvation for
your cattle and prepare for the dry months, it is best to not
overgraze when the pasture is producing and rains are heavy.
Managing and storing hay when conditions are good allows for a
plentiful supply. However, sometimes in extreme condition even the
best planning may not be enough.
To survive during this long heat wave,
pastured cattle need adequate fresh water, food sources, and
properly ventilated shade. If there are any questions about
dehydration or malnourishment, consult your veterinarian or contact
Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the CVM at 979-845-3541.
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