More and more cattle are heading to auction as the cost of feeding these animals keeps increasing. The drought conditions have limited ranchers options. The drought conditions have been responsible for poor hay making this season. Missouri is a microcosm of this widespread challenge. This article will explore the Missouri drought situation as it pertains to making hay. Additionally, it will offer some viable options for cattle ranchers not wanting to send their cattle to auction in the face of declining auction prices and rising hay costs.
Missouri is ground zero for the lost hay production this season. The state is experiencing significant drought conditions, especially in the northwest and north central regions.
Benjamin Herrold of Ag Update recently detailed some of the Missouri hay making challenges in a piece titled, “Struggling, dry pastures still Challenge State’s Cattle Producers”. Herrold cites University of Missouri Extension agronomist Craig Roberts on the overall conditions this season. Roberts says
it has been a challenging year for the forage situation, even with a few rains moving through in August. “I’m not sure what else to say, they don’t look very good. In general, pastures are burnt up.”
In the North Central region Herrold visits with Valerie Tate, an MU Extension agricultural specialist based in Linn County. Tate says
“We are extremely dry in northwest and north central Missouri. We have been on the D3 classification on the Drought Monitor for weeks now, about a month.”
“Our hay crop was short this spring because April was cold and May was hot. Many people are feeding hay already. A lot of ponds have gone dry. A number of individuals have chosen to cull cows.”
Widespread decline in Hay Production
Meghan Grebner of Brownfield Ag News covered the broader hay making conditions this season in a piece titled, “Reduction in Hay Yields Puts More Pressure on Cattle Producers”. According to University of Missouri’s Scott Brown, hay yields, other than alfalfa, are down more than 8 percent on the year.
This decline has occurred in some of the largest cattle producing sections of the country. Quoting Brown,
“I look at Missouri. Last year we had a hay yield of 1.95 and USDA estimates Missouri hay yield at 1.4 tons per acre this year. You see the cuts we have in some of these dry areas – Oklahoma, Texas.”
Like Ag Nook’s “Drought Limits Ranchers Options” story, Brown also notes how the drought has sent cattle to market earlier than normal.
Alternatives to Auction
Both pieces offer viable options to ranchers who aren’t interested in selling cattle in a declining market. Brown notes that 2012 offered similar drought induced hay shortages. However, in 2012 corn was in the $7.00+ range. This season quality feed alternatives may be available, especially as corn has a three handle.
Craig Roberts, notes that rain would be most helpful however there are three other alternatives producers could consider.
The first would be boosting fall forages by sowing in a winter annual. Examples include oats, cereal rye or wheat.
“If a pasture is nearly dead, and we’ve got some fields like that, it can be sown into a winter annual — if there’s nothing growing.”
A second option is fall-grazing alfalfa. However, it needs to rest before the first frost to store up carbohydrates. This process takes four weeks.
Third farmers can fertilize pastures. Of course be mindful to not over fertilize fescue pastures so as to limit the fescue’s toxicity.
“If you hit it with too much nitrogen, it will produce fairly high levels of toxin.”
Roberts, like Brown raise the silage option especially given the lower projected corn yields in some of the drought areas.
Roberts recommends this tip if you are leaning toward the silage route.
Cut the corn a little higher up to improve the leaf-to-stalk ratio. Also, with corn pulling nitrates up from the soil in a dry year, cutting higher reduces the amount of nitrates in the corn that gets chopped.
Widespread drought in key cattle raising regions, including Missouri has created trouble for making hay. Many ranchers are sending their cattle to auction. However, there may be viable cost effective alternatives to selling your animals into a declining market.
Drought Monitor Image Courtesy NOAA
Hay Bale Image Courtesy Agri Pulse