Crops and animals take extra care during a drought

Quick Tips

  • As ponds dry up, be sure you have other water sources such as well water.
  • Make sure your well pump is not turning on then off repeatedly. If it is, it may be “sucking air” due to low water tables. Turn it off and let it rest until the water table can rise.
  • Dry grazinglands burn easily and should be protected with firebreaks.


  • Dry cows need about 8 to 10 gallons of water daily. Cows in their last 3 months of pregnancy may drink up to 15 gallons a day.
  • Hot sunny days and warm stagnant water lead to blue-green algae which can be toxic to cattle.
  • Do not be afraid to sell cows. Cull deeply before the drought becomes too severe.
  • Consider using corn or other feedstuffs to stretch hay supplies. Maintain 50% of the diet as roughage under all circumstances.
  • Do not feed drought stressed corn or sorghum stalks to cattle without testing for nitrates. These crops can accumulate excess nitrates and be toxic to cattle.
  • Drought affected or recovering sorghum, johnsongrass, or sorghum sudangrass, are likely to contain prussic acid, which is deadly to livestock. Have this forage tested.


  • Rest drought stressed pastures so they can recover more quickly.
  • Horticultural crops normally require a well capacity of 8-10 gallons per minute per planted acre.
  • Adding surge valves to conventional furrow irrigation systems is inexpensive and can produce a 10 to 40% water savings.
  • How efficient are your center pivot nozzles? LESA or LEPA nozzles can improve irrigation efficiency by 25%.
  • Monitor your irrigation system and check the soil for moisture. You can use tensiometers, gypsum blocks and water mark sensors, but should also feel the actual soil—if it makes a ball, it is wet.



Most surface water sources have problems with algae growth as a result of high nutrient loading in runoff water. Avoid using water that has heavy growth of blue-green algae, as several species can produce animal toxins (poisons). To control algae in storage tanks, reduce the introduced organic pollution and exclude light. Disinfect water storage tanks by adding 1 ounce of chlorine bleach per 30 gallons of water, holding for 12 hours before draining, and then refilling with clean water. Chlorination can also control certain bacteria. (back to livestock)


Cull livestock expediently. Don’t wait too long to de-stock. Early culling means that remaining forage can be allocated to more valuable animals. First, cull the least valuable and/or higher risk animals: those that will not raise an offspring in the current year, or that will not raise one next year, or that are at high risk for rebreeding failure. Try to sell cull cows before they become truly thin. There are usually price discounts for these kinds of cows. (back to livestock)


Nitrates do not accumulate when there is normal rainfall or irrigation. Under those conditions, nitrate nitrogen is absorbed by roots and moved into the plant where it is rapidly transformed into plant proteins. However, under dry conditions, plant roots continue to absorb small amounts of nitrogen, but the plant has too little water to keep growing. Nitrate accumulates and is stored in lower leaves and stems, ready for the plant to mobilize and use when rapid growth resumes. (back to livestock)

Prussic Acid

Prussic acid accumulation can happen when plants develop new growth after a prolonged drought. Prussic acid accumulates mainly in leaves, with highest concentrations in new growth. Concentrations in leaves are many times higher than in stems. Because livestock usually eat leaves before stems, samples taken for prussic acid analysis should be largely composed of leaves. This is especially true when sampling fields where cattle will be allowed to graze. If grazing is limited, cattle probably will not consume stems. (back to livestock)

Crop Irrigation

Crop water requirements are crop-specific, and they vary with weather and growth stage. Water management is especially important for critical periods in crop development. Apply knowledge of the root zone to optimize irrigation management; take into account the crop’s effective rooting depth, the soil moisture storage capacity, and field-specific conditions (shallow soils, caliche layers, etc.). In irrigation scheduling, consider using soil moisture monitoring, evapotranspiration information, and/or plant indicators to fine-tune water applications to meet crop needs. (back to crops)

Irrigation Efficiency

  1. Low pressure center pivot and linear sprinkler irrigation systems are more water efficient and energy efficient than high pressure systems.
  2. Low pressure systems include Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA), Low Elevation Spray Application (LESA), Mid-Elevation Spray Application (MESA), and Low Pressure In-Canopy (LPIC) systems. LEPA is an irrigation and field management package.
  3. Crop-specific water requirements, soil texture, field topography, water quantity and quality, and other factors should be considered in selecting a sprinkler irrigation system.
  4. Sprinkler systems are well-suited to automation, and they offer potential to apply fairly precise irrigation amounts (light, frequent irrigations to less frequent heavy applications) as needed by the crop or for other field activities (such as chemigation applications).
  5. Sprinkler nozzle packages should be inspected periodically and updated as needed.
  6. Management and maintenance are key to good results with any pressurized sprinkler system. (back to crops)

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