The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting potentially warmer, drier weather throughout the summer this year. Current predictive maps show a fair chance of warmer weather across the state for June through September with temperatures returning to normal sometime during the August, September, October period, David Fernandez, Extension livestock specialist and interim dean of graduate studies and continuing education for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said.
“Drier weather is predicted across most of the state from June to August except in easternmost Arkansas, which should see normal levels of precipitation,” Fernandez said. “Precipitation returns to normal for the period between July and September and through October for all the state. The high plains are expected to be warmer and drier throughout the entire summer.”
With continuing dry conditions in the plains, and warmer, drier conditions in Arkansas, even for a short period, hay and feed availability may decline and prices may rise, he said. Now is a good time to prepare for the possibility of mild to moderate drought this summer.
“Secure good quality hay and feed for your livestock,” Fernandez said. “While local conditions for hay and feed production may be good, if high plains producers continue to require supplemental feed after the drought this year, local supplies may be sold to distant producers.”
Be sure to test the hay you buy for quality. You should think about purchasing hay in terms of pounds of nutrients purchased rather than tons of hay, he said. Poor quality hay has fewer nutrients to maintain cows, ensure rebreeding and keep calves growing. It also produces more heat while it is being digested, which is a benefit in the winter, but not helpful in the heat of summer.
“Your local county Extension agent can show you how to collect a good hay sample,” Fernandez said. “They will also test your hay for a nominal fee. You can use this information to limit feed for your livestock while still meeting their needs in case hay supplies run low. The knowledge gained can make a difference between livestock that performs well and livestock that loses money.”
Hot livestock spend more time loafing in the shade, drink more and eat less. Make sure clean, preferably cool water is available, Fernandez said. Cattle should not have to walk more than 800 feet to water to keep them from walking off pounds of beef.
“I like providing a shade structure over the water tank to help keep the water cool. Water in a tank standing in direct sunlight all day can become too hot to drink,” he said. “Cool water encourages consumption and helps livestock regulate their body temperatures during periods of high heat. Natural sources of water like ponds and smaller streams may go dry during hot, dry periods.”
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) offers financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who want to distribute watering facilities more evenly across their farms and ranches.
“I am always amazed by the number of people who ask me, ‘Do animals really need shade,’ while we are standing in the shade looking at their animals,” Fernandez said. The answer is, ‘yes, they do.’”
Radiation from the sun heats animals’ bodies. Darker colored animals absorb more heat than light colored animals, he said. Some animals have light colored hair but dark colored skin, so they can become warm much faster than you might otherwise think. Shade reduces heating from radiation and allows heat to dissipate from their bodies.
“Provide enough shade for all your livestock to take advantage of it,” Fernandez said. “At a minimum, cattle need 35 to 50 square feet of space per head, while sheep and goats need 10 to 15 square feet.”
The longest side of the structure should be aligned north to south to create the most shade while allowing the sun to dry the ground beneath the structure during the cooler early morning and late afternoon hours of the day.
“Drought is a natural disaster we can see coming and for which we can prepare,” he said. “Getting ready now may save you money and maintain your productivity this summer, helping you to remain profitable.”
NOAA predictive maps can be found at https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions/long_range/seasonal.php?lead=2.