Recovering from drought is a challenging period and decision-making during this time requires strategic management decisions to ensure you are in the best position to return to a positive cash flow and profitable operation as quickly as possible.
It is important to remember that management decisions made during drought will impact the options available during drought recovery. The recovery strategies that will be most suitable for you and your farm will depend on many factors and it is important you spend time evaluating the ones most applicable and their impacts when planning your drought recovery.
It is, therefore, vital to assess your feed availability. Pastures need time to recover following prolonged drought to remain productive. Grazing systems that include pasture spelling, continued drought feeding and prompt weed management will help pasture recover in the shortest possible time. Assessing your feed availability is an important first step in drought recovery.
Maintain an adequate plane of nutrition through supplementary feeding while pastures recover. Short-term drought feeding in containment areas may be required. For cattle already on hand, consider confining them to holding pens and keep drought feeding so they will not lose weight chasing green pick.
The most appropriate supplement for your cattle will depend on the condition of the existing or sourced cattle, the state of available grazing, and your business objectives (survival or production). You will also need to weigh up factors such as cost, availability, labour for feeding out, and ease of controlling intake and availability of equipment.
Rebuilding your herd and making decisions around future herd structure post-drought should focus on: (1) increasing the short to medium term cash flow to enable you to service debts and (2) returning the farming operations to its long-term carrying capacity and optimum herd structure as efficiently as possible.
Most importantly, the applicability of each of these herd management strategies will be partly dependent on the individual management decisions made during the drought. Determining the most effective recovery option for your business will require an analysis of a number of strategies to better define the level of risk and impact on cash flow and profitability.
Also note that significant rainfall following a drought as well as cattle movement during restocking can increase the risk of diseases, parasites as well as grass and weed incursions in your farming operations. Consider and manage the following factors early in the drought recovery phase.
Having a process to plan, monitor and evaluate the farming operations performance over time can be important to maximise long-term productivity and profitability post drought. Forward planning also ensures you and your business are in the best position to respond to future droughts.
Therefore, it is best to review your breeder management programme to ensure you are calving and weaning at the right time. These are fundamental for managing drought risk and facilitate better grazing management. Regularly review your herd structure, including the age of heifer culling and sale, plus the optimum final culling age for mature cows for your herd that best copes with climate variability and available land and other resources.
Make time to document your experiences during the drought response and recovery phases. Memories are short and documenting what you learnt or would do different next time will help you to focus and refine your business management strategies in future droughts.
If you do not have one already, develop a drought management plan. This plan should take into consideration available feed and water, your financial position and the impact of your plan on future grazing.
This might just be a drop in the ocean, but it could mean the difference between life and death for some farmers.
Heed the writing, adjust and panel beat as applicable to your situation if you must – it is all part of the system.