Tag: Dr. Allen Williams

Drought Management Strategies for Graziers


It’s hot out there, and for many regions of the country, it’s dry, really dry. Prolonged dry spells create challenges for farmers and ranchers across the country and the globe. Grazing expert Dr. Allen Williams offers drought management tips to minimize the impact drought can have on your pasture, livestock and profits.

“A good practice is to anticipate that every summer you are going to get drought,” says grazing expert Dr. Allen Williams, who has advised thousands of farmers on grazing and regenerative ag practices.

Evaluating the number of animals you graze is one proactive measure in anticipating drought conditions. Williams suggests graziers stock animals not for the best months of the year, but for the months that will be the most challenging.

A second preemptive strategy is to build a stockpile of forage early when you have the spring moisture. “We make sure we are reserving plenty of residual with each graze, so we have plenty of stockpile ahead of us,” says Williams of his own grazing strategy. “I will not in any grazing event allow the cattle to take more than 30 to 40% of the total biomass.”

Before the drought – building organic matter

Rotational graziers have already taken an important step toward mitigating the impact of drought. You move the fence, move the water, and move the shade daily – sometimes multiple times per day. That grazing practice builds organic matter in the soil, enhancing the moisture-retaining capacity of your pasture. An acre with 1% more organic matter holds an additional 18,000 to 28,000 gallons of water.

Being proactive in anticipation of heat and drought means having the tools you need to build that resilience in your pasture. The Shade Haven mobile shade system is one of those tools. With the Shade Haven, graziers maximize grazing land and move nutrients where they need it on the pasture while protecting livestock from heat stress.

“With more and more hot days, it restricts where you can put animals. With the Shade Haven, you are actually moving shade onto a pasture that may not have natural shade, so you can now use that pasture or paddock.” explains grazier and Shade Haven owner, Jim Munsch, who runs 30 cow-calf pairs on his farm in Coon Valley, Wisconsin.

After three decades of rotational grazing, Munch has more than doubled the organic matter in his pasture. Though the area of Wisconsin where he farms is experiencing moderate to severe drought, Munch notes, “Because we have built the organic matter in our soil for over 35 years, we are hanging in there with our regular rotation.”

During a drought – best strategies 

If you are not highly prepared for drought conditions – and even if you are – there are strategies to best manage your grazing operation during a drought.

“The first thing you need to do is slow the cattle down,” notes Williams. “That is really important. A lot of people do the opposite.”

In dry times, the opposite – speeding up the rotation – is the worst tactic. “Because that allows less recovery time between grazing events,” explains Williams. “You want to slow them down and hold them back to allow whatever is ahead to recover as much as possible.”

Slowing your roll may mean feeding hay. Be strategic with your bale grazing. “Don’t waste the opportunity to bale graze in areas of the farm that need the most improvement,” advises Williams.

When you feed hay, avoid bale rings. Instead feed the bale intact or roll it on the field. “You want to influence a high-density impact and a lot of manure and urine on the area.”

Mike and Bridget Klein had to slow their grazing during the 2021 drought in central Minnesota. The Klein’s SH600 mobile shade system was a perfect complement to their bale grazing strategy. “The Shade Haven allowed us to move the bale grazing away from the trees,” says Bridget Klein. “We could keep them grazing, keep them rotating. Even though we were bale grazing, we could keep depositing that fertility.”

The Klein’s management practice had a noticeable effect on their pasture. “It was exciting to see how our organic matter increased and how our soil health increased despite the dry conditions.”

Though you may need to allow some overgrazing in a sacrifice area, be careful not to over graze as you move forward, warns Williams. “If you graze too tightly the soil temperature is going to heat up pretty significantly, and you will do more damage and longer-term damage.”

Once again, allow your livestock to consume just 30% to 40% of the leaf volume, leaving behind plenty to shade and protect the soil.

Time to destock

“You can never feed your way profitably out of drought if you are overstocked,” stresses Williams. “It is absolutely not profitable to hang on to all of your stock during a prolonged drought.”

Subscribe to a good weather forecasting service. When it predicts sustained drought patterns, believe it, and take action. Destock your herd early. Determine which animals are least desirable or not performing and sell them. Don’t wait until they lose body condition. “If cattle or sheep are thin, you have lost a lot of value in them if you need to sell,” warns Williams.

Their value diminishes further the longer you wait, as other procrastinating graziers also begin destocking. “So not only are you selling them thin, you are selling them into a down market,” notes Williams. “Be prepared, think ahead, cull ahead – or look for grass elsewhere.”

After the drought

You’ve survived the drought. Now what? “That is when you go back to the drawing board and retool your thought process,” says Williams. “It could happen again next year or the next year. You need to be prepared for drought conditions every year.”

Dr. Allen Williams on 5 Ways to Boost Dry Matter Intake

Optimal Dry Matter Intake (DMI) results in optimal production for grazing livestock. If you’re a grazier, that impacts your bottom line. But how do you achieve optimal DMI? Grass Fed Beef, LLC founder and grazing expert Dr. Allen Williams outlines five ways to boost DMI to maximize production and profits.

#1 Graze at Mid-Stage
For ideal grazing, make sure the forages are at mid-stage maturity when you put cattle on the paddock. “That is when you will have the most optimal balance of protein to energy in those forages, and they are going to be richly mineralized,” says Williams. “That is going to give you the greatest level of performance from the livestock grazing those pastures at any given point in time.”

#2 Provide Shade for Comfort and Production
Cattle suffering from heat stress will consume 50 to 70% less dry matter, depending on the degree of heat stress. “No matter what class of livestock you are grazing that will result in significant reduction in body condition, and at some point you have to put that body condition back on them,” notes Williams. “When they are losing body condition they are not productive, they are going backwards. It costs a lot more money to put lost body condition back on than it would have to simply maintain that body condition to begin with.”

You get your biggest bang for your buck with mobile shade, such as a Shade Haven. “When you can provide shade where it’s needed and therefore optimize your grazing, that makes it an investment rather than a cost,” says Williams, who notes the same applies to money spent on water systems and movable fencing.

“Shade is an investment not a cost, because it allows your cattle to perform better and it allows you to have a much more optimal grazing program,” Williams adds. “I’ve seen people that have pastures that their cattle rarely graze even though they have access to them, because they don’t have shade or adequate water access.”

By waiting to graze until forages reach mid-stage maturity, you’ll have cooler, moister soil, which also reduces risks of heat stress. “Those soils provide more comfort to the cattle as they are grazing,” notes Williams. “What we have found through our research is that when you are grazing cattle in the heat of the summer, the closer you crop down those forages, the more soil moisture you lose and the greater that soil heats up.”

Williams’ research found as much as a 50-degree difference in soil temperature in a well-managed pasture versus a poorly managed pasture.  “In well-managed pastures, you typically have soil temperatures in the 70s and 80s on hot summer days,” he explains. “But where they are more closely cropped down and the cattle are allowed to graze them too tightly, those temps can be 140 degrees or more on the exact same day. Which pasture would you be more comfortable standing in?”

The answer is obvious. When cattle lie down on the cool, moist soil it has a beneficial impact on comfort, says Williams. “And when they can do that under shade as well, you are doubling that very positive impact.”

#3 – Allow Easy Access to Water
The third thing that influences the ability of cattle to consume ample dry matter is water. “You have to have water resources located in a reasonable distance of the paddocks you are grazing each day. For dairy cattle we like that water to be no more than 800 feet away at the farthest point,” says Williams. “That will give you the most optimal performance and allow them to be able to utilize water if they need to.”

#4 – Make Mid-Day Moves
The time of day you move your cattle from one paddock to another impacts DMI. Williams advises a mid-afternoon move. “The reason being is the Brix content—which is the measure of nutrient density and sugars in plants—is at its highest point every day in the afternoon due to photosynthetic activity.”

Plants are at their lowest Brix point in the early morning. “The cattle are going to be consuming a lower nutrient-dense forage, which means they have to take more bites to get the amount of dry matter they need to support themselves to perform,” says Williams. “If you make that same move on the same pasture with the same cattle in the afternoon rather than the morning, you can get significantly higher performance out of the cattle.”

#5 – Prioritize Plant Diversity
For maximum DMI, you want abundant pasture forage, and the best way to achieve that is through plant diversity. “We have done study after study comparing diverse mixes in pastures versus monocultures, and in every study the diverse mixes far out perform the monocultures to the tune of producing anywhere from 3 to 4.5 times more forage biomass out of the exact same pastures, simply going from a single species to five, eight or more plant species in that pasture.”

By implementing these five steps, you can improve DMI and maximize production and profits. “We found that if you have cattle you are finishing, you can increase your Average Daily Gain at least another half-pound a day,” says Williams. “On the dairy side… you can increase your fluid milk production 20 to 30% — in many cases more than that—on a daily basis. Maybe even more importantly, you increase milk components 20% or greater on a daily basis. And you increase longevity of those cows. For dairy herds that is important.”

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About Dr. Allen Williams
Dr. Allen Williams is a champion of the grass-fed beef industry and an expert in grazing methodology and regenerative agriculture. He is a 6th generation farmer and founding partner of Grass Fed Beef, LLC, Grass Fed Insights, LLC. He serves on the board for Grassfed Exchange and has written articles for Graze, The Stockman Grassfarmer and other publications. Williams has consulted with thousands of farmers and ranchers throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and South America. He is a partner in Joyce Farms, Inc. where he is the leader of the
regenerative agriculture program.