Drought and Your Livestock

Drought and Your Livestock

The impact of drought on livestock can be devastating. Limited water supplies occur during a time when the water needs are increased. Feed availability can also become limited. Plants can also concentrate toxins making them lethal to livestock. Planning ahead can help protect the health and well-being of your livestock.

Use this checklist to make plans for your livestock before, during, and after a drought situation.

Drought and Your Livestock [PDF]

Before a Drought

Keep up-to-date forage inventories.

  • Accurate records of avaialble feedstuffs can help you determine available feed supplies during drought situations.

Develop an emergency plan for water and feed resources.

  • Obtain emergency supplies of forage and grain, including alternative feed sources and additional grazing areas.
  • Identify emergency resources for water.
  • Plant alternative forage crops.

Good land management before a drought provides greater flexibility when droughts occur.

  • Maintain healthy soils.
  • Balance stocking rates and land resources.
  • Adjust the stocking rate to a point where only 75% of the available forage is utilized.

During a Drought

Provide quality water sources.

  • Ensure animals have a supply of cool, clean water.
  • Truck water in for livestock.
  • Monitor the water temperature and keep it cool.
  • Monitor water sources, such as watering hole, streams and ponds, which can dry out during drought conditions.
  • Check water delivery systems periodically for proper function.
  • Dry conditions can lead to undrinkable or toxic water sources. Have water quality testing performed.
    • Concentration of naturally occurring salts and minerals can be harmful to animal health.
    • Increased nutrients in water can lead to increased growth of blue-green algae, which can be toxic.

Feed management.

  • Avoid overgrazing or overstocking of pasture and rangeland. Forages should never be grazed “to the roots” under any circumstance.
  • Drought situations can also result from increased grazing by livestock on toxic plants.
  • Move animals to additional pastures. This may involve moving them out of the drought affected area.
  • Providing supplemental feed (e.g., grains, hay) may be necessary.
    • Non-traditional feedstuffs may be an option.
    • Lease additional pastures.
  • Supplemental minerals, vitamins or energy sources may be needed.

If feed shortages occur,

  • You may need to limit the number of animals to conserve water and reduce feed demand. Sell unproductive animals. This option is best considered before the drought becomes too severe.

Monitor animals for illness.

  • If your animals show signs of illness, contact your local veterinarian immediately!
  • Signs of dehydration: rapid, shallow breathing; reluctance to move; weight loss; drying of mucous membranes (e.g., eyes, nose, mouth); decreased skin flexibility
  • Signs of heat stress: increased respiration rate or panting; excessive salivation; elevation of the head to make it easier to breathe; open mouth breathing

After a Drought

If you plan to feed drought damaged crops (e.g., feed, forages) to livestock, be aware of these issues:

  • Drought conditions can reduce the nutritional quality of forages and lower forage succulence (and protein content).
  • Dry forages are harder to digest.
  • Drought conditions increases plant toxicities (e.g., nitrates, mycotoxins).
  • Test harvested feed and forages for nutrient content and potential toxins prior to feeding.

Talk with your county extension office about drought assistance programs and the enrollment process.

Additional Resources

Determine the Risk of Drought In Your Area

U.S. Drought Monitor
Website providing drought condition maps and information for the U.S.
National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
Map of drought tendency and forecast for the U.S.
National Weather Service (NOAA NWS)

Planning For A Drought

Drought Management Plan for Your Cow/Calf Enterprise
Information on developing a drought management plan.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Managing Livestock During A Drought

Cattle Management During Drought
Factsheet discussing alternative cattle management strategies during drought situations, such as early weaning and creep feeding.
Montana Cooperative Extension System
Conserving Water in Agriculture: Livestock Water Management During a Drought
Factsheet with suggestions for making the best use of available water during drought situations to prevent land damage or decreased livestock performance.
Oregon State University Extension Service
Drought-Stressed Corn
Factsheet to help producers identify drought stressed corn and discusses several options for harvest.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension
Horse Pasture Frost and Drought Concerns
Information about plants found on pasture that may be harmful to horses during drought or frost conditions.
University of Minnesota Extension
Managing Drought-Stressed Corn for Silage
Factsheet discussing harvest guidelines and toxicity issues associated with drought-stressed corn.
University of Florida Cooperative Extension
Managing Livestock During a Drought
Factsheet discussing water requirements and feed issues for livestock during a drought.
University of Wisconsin Extension
Nitrate Toxicity
Factsheet on the nitrate accumulation in plants during drought conditions and precautions to take before feeding to livestock.
Iowa Beef Center, Iowa State University

Assistance After a Drought

Disaster Assistance Programs: Livestock Forage Program
Weekly LFP program eligibility maps
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA)
IRS Relief Provides Drought-Stricken Farmers, Ranchers More Time to Replace Livestock
Information on extension of livestock replacement.
Internal Revenue Service
IRS Tax Issues for Livestock Sales in Drought Years
Information on tax issues for livestock during drought.
North Dakota State University Extension Service