During the session Demystifying Destocking During Drought, Anneliese Walker from MaiaGrazing  presented information on drought, forecasting and stocking policy.

Because Canada is located in the greater plains there is a higher level of drought up to 30 per cent of the time, and high variability of rainfall due to mountains to the west. Plants suffer because of lack of water at any level below 25 per cent median rainfall. The timing of precipitation predicts performance. Spring rains are most effective and April and May precipitation has greater than 90 per cent forage impact. 

Some impacts include: 

  • decreased forage availability and quality (lignified)
  • greater pest pressure (worm issues, grasshoppers)
  • impacts on animal performance (harder to gain weight)
  • livestock market fluctuations (all farms affected by climate)
  • Changes in feed prices, animal slaughter and stock prices 

Destocking during drought is a common tool, a lever to balance feed demand to forage supply. In 2011 and 2012, large destocking events caused a decrease in market value. Keeping an eye on the pulse of market value helps profitability. 

Drought response vs drought preparation 

Drought response includes:

  • Purchasing feed, renting more pasture, moving livestock, building a feedlot
  • Reduce forage demand by reactively reducing herd size, weaning calves early and selling retained yearling livestock
  • Seeking off-farm income 

Regardless, you will almost always see a loss in profit. This is why it is important for farmers to prepare in advance for drought. 

Drought preparation includes: 

  • Reserving forage supply by stocking conservatively, resting pastures longer and creating a grass bank
  • Vary the stocking rate with forage supply by incorporating yearling livestock, using custom grazing, using weather predictions to adjust stocking rate and creating a destocking policy and sticking to it 
  • Using stocking policies
  • Determine gross margins by enterprise: if you don’t understand what’s making money, how do you choose what to change 
  • Create a working knowledge of current feed position: how much forage do you have? How do you create a budget? 
  • Calculate carrying capacity: How many animals can I care for on my land in an average year? 

Long-Term Planning

Collect all historical data available to you: compare long-term stocking rate to different rainfall scenarios, destock prior to market flooding, identify potential drought, avoid panic-induced management and identify drought-management streams. Use this data to create an obtainable stocking policy. 

Overstocking causes a decrease in animal performance, a decrease in reproduction rates and an increase in pest pressure. Long term, this also causes a loss of product, income, plant cover and biodiversity, and an increase of soil erosion and indirect costs. By creating a flexible stocking policy you can cut back on waste and build profit. 

A conservative stocking policy means to carry the same stocking rate regardless of wet or dry conditions throughout the years. A flexible stocking policy means to take on more animals in wet years, less in dry years and average in median. 

Stocking policies should contain: 

  • critical rainfall dates 
  • critical destock dates 
  • forecast of stocking rates to carrying capacity 
  • a grazing plan 
  • and an accountability buddy if you need it 

MAIA provides information on data-informed decision-making. It is an art and a science: specialists raise livestock themselves; support is built into the system so this includes training; and MAIA collects the data.   

Conference 2023

The CFGA is excited to announce that its 14th annual conference will take place Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 in person in Harrison Hot Springs, BC. This year’s conference theme is Forage Resilience in a Changing Landscape: Manage risk. Overcome challenges. Discover opportunities and we look forward to delivering the interesting and informative sessions the CFGA conference is known for. Please save the date to join us as we learn about issues facing the forage sector and how they overcome these challenges, as well as take a look ahead to opportunities. Watch the CFGA conference website for more information.

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