Updated: 8.10.17  For more information, contact the Iowa Cattlemen's Association at iacattlemen@iabeef.org or 515-296-2266

Iowa Cattlemen’s Association

Special Report: Drought

Drought conditions are impacting the agriculture industry across the state of Iowa, especially cattle producers. The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association is working with local and state agencies including the Farm Service Agency and ISU Extension to develop resources and information to help producers make the most of the forage available for their cattle.

According to Harry Hillaker, Iowa’s State Climatologist, only 2012 and 2013 brought less July rainfall to the state among the past 25 years. The last week of the month, only 37 percent of pasture in the state was rated good to excellent.

These conditions have, without a doubt, caused stress to Iowa cattle operations in various areas of the state. This Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Special Report is designed to provide our members with educational resources to help manage their herds during this trying time.

As always, we invite you to contact your association with any concerns or questions you may have. Let us know what conditions are like in your part of the state, and feel free to call or email if you need more information about one of the topics below.


In this Report

-Preg Checking Pays the Bills

-Water Quality and Availability

-Feeding Drought Corn Silage to Beef Cows

-US Drought Monitor Maps

-Managing the Cow Herd around Dry Pastures

-Emergency Haying or Grazing of CRP Acres

-Iowa Hay and Straw Directory

-Iowa Beef Center Drought Resources

Preg Checking pays the bills in drought conditions

In this 2016 article, Patrick Gunn, ISU Extension Beef Specialist, gave solid advice that applies again this year.

“Due to the drought in some locations, it is likely that many producers will note an increase in feed costs, coming as a result of prolonged delivery of harvested feeds.  Unfortunately, some producers have already resorted to feeding hay this summer.  As such, early identification of open cows will get those females off the feed bill, easily paying for the pregnancy detection invoice with money left over.”

Water Quality and Availability 

In the absence of drought conditions, fresh forage can actually supply some of the daily water requirements for grazing cattle. Without adequate grazing, this situation can quickly lead to dehydration when producers consider that a healthy heifer can drink up to 20 gallons each day in the warmer months.

Streams and ponds contaminated with green algae, parasites or other contaminants can all discourage the animal to fully hydrate. In drought conditions, many surface water sources evaporate completely or are so stagnant the animals refuse to drink. Read more here.

Feeding Drought Corn Silage to Beef Cows 

Beth Doran, Extension Beef Program Specialist, cautions producers who plan to green-chop or make silage to check with both their Farm Service Agency and crop insurance agency before chopping. If drought-stressed corn is green-chopped, producers should be aware of the potential for nitrate toxicity.

“There is a quick test that can be used to test for the presence of nitrates, but a sample of the green-chopped feed should be sent to a commercial testing laboratory to determine the amount of nitrate,” Doran said. “Do this before feeding!”

Ensiling of drought-stressed corn will reduce the nitrate concentration by about 40 to 60 percent. Still, producers need to have it tested after ensiling and before feeding to determine the actual level of nitrate. If the nitrate level is high, the silage may be diluted with low-nitrate feedstuffs.

Doran reminds producers that tolerance to nitrate ranges with the type of beef animal. Feedlot cattle over 700 pounds tend to be more tolerant; whereas, lighter feedlot animals or pregnant cows and heifers are least tolerant. It is advisable to feed it to the most tolerant animals.

Other best management practices include harvesting at the proper dry matter, allowing four to five weeks for fermentation, slowly adapting the animal to the silage and providing a balanced diet.

For more information on the feeding value, spoilage problems, and ration conditions related to drought corn silage, refer to this resource, written by Dr. Daryl Strohbehn and Dr. Dan Loy, Iowa State University.

Managing the Cow Herd around Dry Pastures 

Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Program Specialist with the Iowa Beef Center, offered 3 tips for cow/calf producers in drought areas in this month’s Iowa Cattleman magazine. Read the entire article here.

  1. Avoid overgrazing to prevent long-term setbacks in forage production and yield.  Consider designating an area of a pasture to maintain cows during dry conditions to avoid damaging all of the pasture ground.

  2. If forage supply is limited, supplementation of grain or grain-based co-products can improve cattle performance and help extend the grazing season.  Consider economics and rumen microbe populations when supplementing.

  3. In instances of excessive forage shortage, early weaning of calves (weaned prior to 180 days of age) should be considered as a method to reduce nutrient requirements of the female and reduce grazing pressure.

Emergency Haying or Grazing of Eligible CRP Acres


All eligible CRP acres can be grazed or hayed statewide since the nesting season ended August 1. Producers in eligible counties will not be subject to the payment reduction for CRP haying/grazing.

Acreage eligible for managed or emergency haying and grazing includes acreage devoted to the following practices: CP1, CP2, CP4B, CP4D, CP10, CP18B, CP18C and CP38 in certain states. CRP participants are reminded that a certain percentage of fields must be left unhayed or ungrazed.

Emergency haying can be authorized through August 31 and is limited to one cutting. All haying activities must be completed by Aug. 31. Approved emergency grazing can be conducted through September 30. Haying or grazing may be requested, but not both on the same CRP contract.

Landowners interested in emergency haying or grazing of CRP acres should contact their county Farm Service Agency (FSA) office and meet with the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff to obtain a modified conservation plan to include emergency haying/grazing.

Once approval is granted by FSA, authorized producers can use the CRP acreage for their own livestock or may grant use to another livestock producer. CRP participants can donate but are not allowed to sell any hay or forage removed from CRP as a result of this emergency release.

Iowa counties that are eligible for emergency haying and grazing of CRP without the payment reduction include:


Iowa Hay and Straw Directory

List provides information of both buyers and sellers of Iowa hay and straw

Iowa Department of Agriculture maintains an online hay and straw directory. The directory lists Iowa producers with hay and straw for sale, as well as organizations and businesses associated with promoting and marketing quality hay and straw.

The listing is available to interested buyers throughout the nation, however only sellers from within Iowa can be included on the list.

Names are gathered throughout the year with added emphasis now that hay harvest has started. Sections within the Hay and Straw Directory include “Forage for Sale,” “Forage Auctions,” “Hay Associations,” “Forage Dealers,” “Hay Grinders” and “Custom Balers.”

Farmers interested in listing should visit the Department’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov.  An application form can be found by going to the “Bureaus” link and then selecting “Agricultural Diversification and Market Development.”  Then click on “Hay & Straw Directory” on the right side of the page under “Directories.”

Iowa Beef Center Drought Resources

The Iowa Beef Center has compiled a variety of educational pieces on drought concerns, including:

  • Water and other resources
  • Cow-Calf Considerations
  • Grazing, Pastures, Forages, Grain
  • Herd and animal health
  • Pricing and financial tools
  • Weather maps and reports
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