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Dry conditions shortening forage stocks

Agriculture.com Staff 02/11/2016 @ 9:50pm

In the epicenter of abnormally dry and drought conditions that stretch through much of the Gulf coast to the southern and central Corn Belt, forage producers are facing steep shortfalls in supply. This deficit, as high as 50% in some parts of region, means cattle producers could be facing some tough choices between now and the arrival of fall.

"I have about 120 cows and it is getting drier every day," writes Agriculture Online Cattle Talk poster Chadsu. "We had a good first cutting of hay and it got put up in great shape...The way it looks now, barring a drastic change in the weather pattern here in Kentucky, pasture will be completely gone in a couple weeks. There will not be a second cutting of hay as of right now."

"Real bad" is how northern Alabama producer and Cattle Talk poster J describes his situation. "The pastures are all but gone. There will not be a second cutting of hay unless we start getting some rain," J writes. I hate to say it, but it will take a tropical storm to help us any. By September, I don't know if I will have any cows."

Ultimately, producers like Chadsu and J have two basic options: Cull down the herd size to cut forage needs or make use of available stocks, either changing rations to stretch existing supplies or relying on higher-priced forage stocks in already dwindling supplies.

"Cull down now and cull deep before the market goes totally down the dumper because of everyone else selling off cows," writes fellow Cattle Talk poster dunmovin. "I wouldn't sell any hay. I'd hold onto it and feed the remaining cows if I had to. One thing to keep in mind is that the more you abuse the pasture now, the longer it will take them to recover, if they recover at all."

Given the choice between culling herd numbers or taking efforts to stretch existing supplies, poster dirtdt chooses the latter. "Keep the cows. Think how hard it will be to rebuild the herd. I guess it is a 'buy-and-hold' strategy, but mostly it works."

Making dirtdt's strategy work will require some belt-tightening in order to make already-dwindling forage supplies last until fall, according to University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist Garry Lacefield. In Kentucky, Lacefield says a new market dynamic has developed this summer where producers with supplies on hand don't have to look far for buyers.

"Right now, I estimate our spring hay production at 50% below normal, ranging from 30% to 60%. We do not have much hay in Kentucky," he says of the state where the bulk of the forage comprises cooler-season grasses. "Those farmers who have got hay are certainly not going to be eager to market any when they're looking to try to stretch their hay supply. Some of our commercial growers have hay, but won't have to look much further for customers than their neighbor."

Making existing forage supplies will require improving feeding efficiencies through changing rations and, where available, utilizing other feedstock sources, Lacefield says. This may also come through simple management changes.

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