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      Forage Specialist is Providing Producers With Drought Options

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      A University of Nebraska at Lincoln forage specialist is helping producers find long-term changes they can make to work with the limited water supply caused by extreme drought.

      After many ponds and creeks dried up last summer, many cattle producers were left with little in the way of reliable water sources. UNL forage specialist Bruce Anderson says spring rains may replenish those sources, but that this may be a good time to develop wells or pipelines to put water into tanks.

      Cattle may even prefer tank water as it may be cooler and easier to access than ponds or creeks.

      Tank water is often healthier for cattle, and they usually prefer it. When cows walk intoponds and creeks, they stir mud and sediments into the water and often depositwaste.

      "No wonder calves consistently choose tank water over ponds when given achoice," Anderson said.

      Reports show that the higher water quality found in tanks provides a boost incattle gains. Calves can weigh an extra 50 pounds at weaning when tank water isavailable, and yearling steers can gain an extra three- to four-tenths of apound per day.

      It would only take a few years for the investment to pay off with the added boost to the cattle, and may have an even quicker effect with dried up water sources.

      Another related way producers can adjust to water shortages, according toAnderson, is to grow limited irrigation forages rather than a grain crop. Manyirrigated acres may not receive enough water this summer to grow a good grainor root crop.

      "Sometimes you can combine water allocated for several fields onto onefield to get a crop, but that still leaves the other acres with little or nowater at all," Anderson explained.

      Forage crops also need water for highest production, but at least some usefulyield can be gathered when water availability is very low.

      A perennialforage would eliminate the cost and time of establishing a new crop if waterlimits continue for several more years.

      According to Anderson, switchgrass is one good choice. It's less expensive toplant, its primary water needs occur in early summer when water tends to be more available, and it can be managed for hay or pasture. Other warm-season grassoptions include big or sand bluestem and indiangrass.

      "It may not be what you hoped for, but growing forages under limitedirrigation may help you make the best out of a bad situation."

      Courtesy- University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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