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Ranchers face problems

The 2005 drought in Washington state will affect everyone, but it will hit agriculture the hardest as farmers look to find ways to water their crops.

One form of agriculture that can get overlooked, but certainly is affected by a drought, is livestock, according to Tipton Hudson, Washington State University livestock management expert.

"The problem of drought is primarily a shortage in forage quantity and quality," said Hudson.

A quantitative amount of forage is necessary to sustain herd size, while quality is necessary to maintain herd productivity.

"It costs money to get either one up to where it should be when conditions are poor," said Hudson.

He added that there is a tendency to overuse resources during a drought to maintain herd size, which, in turn, leads to a total long-term capacity of the land by damaging its ability to produce forage.

Hudson suggests for those who raise livestock to focus on animals most able to return a profit after the drought.

"Reduce the numbers by culling open cows, cows with consistently lighter calves and cows that always breed late," said Hudson.

Also effective in conserving resources is weaning calves early. Hudson added that animals should be segregated by age and reproductive stage to ensure each group is fed adequately.

Hudson warns that overusing pastures to make it through the drought will result in weeds, which waste water. Plant crowns, which ensure future grass, can also be destroyed by overgrazing.

"Overgrazing today will mean profit loss for years down the road," said Hudson. "Recovery of rangelands is much slower than recovery on irrigated pasture."

He explained that to maintain pastures, it is important to plan grazing and control animal use through rotational grazing.

During a drought year grazing won't be enough and ranchers will have to supplement during the drought.

"Alfalfa hay is often the cheapest supplement, but as hay prices climb and conditions worsen, this may not be the case," said Hudson. "Producers should also consider grain as an alternative."

Also necessary for proper nutrition for cattle is adequate water.

"Water developments are costly, but they are an extremely valuable management tool that pays off in the long-term productivity," he said.

He added that it is also important to provide loose stock with salt.

. Melissa Dekker can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail mdekker@eaglenewspapers.com

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