You can pray for rain, of course. But since droughts have been with us for more than a few years, it has seemed to me they must fit into God’s plan. So I do wonder about trying to get Him to change His mind on something so common in this world. Much better, I think, to pray for the wisdom to understand and the strength to deal with what we face.

Clearly there is no really good alternative when we are confronted with dried up grass and creek beds. The actions that are effective really should have been taken years before. If you haven’t done that, you are now in a state called “damage control” and whatever you do is going to be painful. I can’t help but wonder how many of us, with the high prices of recent years, have chosen to buy a shiny new tractor or pickup truck instead of putting in some ponds. Depending on the quality of the sound system you order with your truck, you could probably have built 10 to 20 stock-saving ponds to confront a drought. As I recall, Joel Salatin once wrote that he tried to add a pond to his farm every year.

It may be less dramatic in appearance, but improving the quality of your pastures not only has a positive effect on the health and production of your animals, it increases the water-holding capability of your soil. Look around and you’ll probably see that some folks seem to have pastures that hold out a little longer than others. It’s probably because they have practiced good land management techniques. You might want to ask Jim Gerrish about that when he’s at our annual meeting in Albany this October.

Of course, I have to say handling a drought also depends upon the type of animals you have. Animals are affected in many functions of their life through the stresses of low quality food. But there definitely are some animals that can handle the stresses of food shortages better than others. These are animals that have the ability to store a good supply of fat and the many quality nutrient values that are contained in those fat molecules.

It’s easy to spot those cows. They almost always are wide in the rump and shoulders and deep in chest; the same qualities that make them easiest and cheapest to raise in good times. They are the ones that have the energy to cycle and maintain pregnancies and produce a good, live calf each year. They are the ones who will keep going in a drought, finding sustenance when it seems there is none to be had, while their herd mates quickly fall off.

So as difficult as it is when dollars are rolling in, that is the time to work on your herd and cull strictly to get the kind of cows you should have for bad times and good.

If there is any silver lining to a drought, it may be that it forces us to look more closely at our animals and make a decision about whether we have the right type. Throughout the millennia the Creator has seemed to use tough times to force natural selectivity and survival of the fittest. It could be true that we have used money and modern technology to defy that natural culling process. Perhaps it is time to get out of the way.

For many, if not most of us, the best answer to a drought may be, as Kit Pharo suggests, to de-stock and take a vacation. But that may not be the right answer for a seed stock producer who has spent years and many dollars developing the right kind of cattle. In that case, de-stocking may be simply loading them up and driving them to grass. Cows used to do that on their own, of course, until we built all those fences and subdivisions.

But if you’re going to tough it out (hopefully after examining your herd critically as I suggest above), hay is the best source of outside nutrition for supplementation. But keep in mind that supplementing with grains will have the same negative effects in a drought that they have in normal conditions. The grain may provide the extra energy to help the cow to cycle but what she eats determines the quality of her eggs and therefore the quality of the calf. Beyond that, you wind up with a calf that is no longer naturally adapted to a life on grass.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is make sure your animals are getting plenty of fresh, cool water. And closely monitor their mineral consumption. Cows and bulls get behind in the mineral profile that keeps animals healthy and functioning to their genetic potential. For example, the average actual and useful mineral in the minerals we put out is around 175 to 200 milligrams per helping. You must at least double that amount to keep the animals healthy.

Remember first that salt is more important now than ever, but mix it in with the minerals. Given a choice in these conditions, cows will eat the salt and leave the minerals. I am religious about putting 400 mg of copper in the mix. In a drought, we often see an out-break of pinkeye, foot rot, retained placentas and e coli scours. There also can be an infestation of internal and external parasites. High levels of copper sulfate can deal with all that. Copper, and selenium, too, are important in keeping a good, short hair coat in the extreme heat. For pinkeye, you almost always have a low Vitamin A profile. I give a shot of Vitamin A/D/E and I increase the iodine to 100 mg for 30 days and then cut back to 30 mg.

Don’t forget your bulls, either. We do what we think is necessary to get the cows pregnant but neglect to keep a good mineral trough in the bull pasture. The quality and volume of his semen is dependent on full mineralization. And finally, remember it will take about two years of good mineral management to get the animals back on track if these standards are not addressed during the hard times.

Best of luck and let us now how you’re doing.