Drought on Pastures and Rangelands

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

  • How pasture and rangeland responds to drought depends on the previous management of the forage stand. Plants with deep root systems have the ability to reach subsurface moisture where plants with shallow, depleted root systems are affected much sooner.
  • Good pasture/range management begins with a grazing plan early in the season and should include drought as a possibility. Grazing plans, stocking rates, recovery periods and utilization rates all play a part in the ability to withstand a drought.
  • Plant recovery periods must be the first to be adjusted as dry weather prevails. As grazed plants slow their growth, their ability to restore their root systems slows as well. More time is needed to recover from grazing.
  • Combine herds to decrease the number of paddocks/pastures being used at any one time and to increase the stock density on the land. By combining herds it is easier to extend the recovery periods for the land that the animals have grazed.
  • Higher stock density reduces the selectivity of the individual grazing animals. As selectivity is reduced, animals consume less desirable plants as part of their daily diet. This in itself makes more feed available at a time of deficiency.
  • As animals consume the less desirable plants, they reduce grazing pressure on the desirable plants. Reduced grazing severity and increased recovery time protects the desirable plants from abuse during the dry period.
  • As much as possible, leave thatch behind to provide shade to the soil surface. Moisture retention becomes critical during dry times. Thatch is also critical when the rains return to catch the rain drops and keep them from running away or evaporating.
  • Simultaneous to adjusting recovery periods and stock density, stocking rates must be assessed. In advance, plan which classes of grazing livestock will be destocked first. Establish at what points the classes of animals will be removed from the land if the drought persists.
  • As the rains return, be careful not to restock too soon. Maintain a long recovery period for grazed paddocks/pastures to enable plants to reestablish themselves both before the cattle come in and after they have left the paddock.
  • Be aware that optimal fertility levels on the land affect the plants' ability to recover. A part of your fertility investment can be allocated to stand recovery and a part to productivity within the year.
Fact Sheets

Conserving Pasture Production During Dry Conditions

Dry Periods Mean Extra Attention to Electric Fencing

Effects of Environment on Forage Quality - available in PDF format only

Effects of Drought on Plant Growth - available in PDF format only

Healthy Plants Have Smaller Forage Reductions during Precipitation Shortages - available in PDF format only

Managing Forages in Dry Years

Management Practices Contributed to Last Summer's Herbage Reductions - available in PDF format only

Pasture Recovery from Drought Depends on Previous Management - available in PDF format only

Proper Grazing Management Can Minimize Severity of Problems during Drought - available in PDF format only

Range and Pasture Management when Dealing with Drought

Salvaging Cereal Crops - When to Cut

Stocking Rate and Grazing Management - available in PDF format only

Tips for Dealing with Drought on Range - available in PDF format only

Research Papers

Can Abundant Summer Precipitation Counter Losses in Herbage Production Caused by Spring Drought?

Comparative forage yield, water use and water use efficiency of alfalfa, crested wheat grass and spring wheat in a semi-arid climate in southern Saskatchewan - available in PDF format only

Drought survival of selected forage grasses commonly seeded in the northern Great Plains - available in PDF format only

Growth, Water Relations, and Nutritive Value of Pasture Species Mixtures under Moisture Stress

Herbage response to precipitation in central Alberta boreal grasslands - available in PDF format only

Northern dry mixed prairie responses to summer wildlife and drought - available in PDF format only

Soil water regimes of annual and perennial forages during drought years in the Aspen Parkland ecoregions of Alberta - available in PDF format only

Sward age and weather effects on alfalfa yield at a semi arid location in southwestern Saskatchewan - available in PDF format only

Water Relations in Cool Season Grasses - available in PDF format only
  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Janet Fletcher.
This information published to the web on October 17, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on January 29, 2016.

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