Hay season is winding down for some cattle producers—because there isn’t much of it to cut. But, regardless of the dire hay situation many are facing, rain for the Plains on the way.
“I’ve been at Mizzou for 30 years, and this is the worst of what I’ll call a shortage of forage,” says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist. “Not just hay but pastures as well.”
Compounding that problem—these long-term precipitation deficits, going back to summer of 2017 have made the hay supply situation even worse. There are few areas with enough hay supplies left to ship to producers in critical need.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows drought affecting nine of the top 10 cow-calf states: Texas, Missouri Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota and Iowa. (See below for Roberts’ rain outlook.)
Watch the Weather Outlook
In weekly updates, Roberts says he’s hearing about increasing chances of rain for the Midwest.
Producers that have warm-season or Bermudagrass pastures, native pastures or annuals, such as pearl millet, might be a narrow opportunity to apply fertilizer ahead of incoming rains.
“If we're expecting rain, to hit that with about 40 lb. of nitrogen would probably be a wise move,” he says. “In the southern part of the state, down into Arkansas, Oklahoma and other places, there’s a lot of Bermuda, so this would be the time. And they would have to go pretty quickly because the rain is supposed to come in the next few days.
Watch that Fescue Hay—Test for Toxicity
As cattlemen know all too well, fescue is a tricky forage that needs to be managed.
Roberts says there is some concern that drought and dry weather can increase the toxicity of fescue, as well as the amount of endophyte in the seed head at cutting. “I think fescue hay might be more toxic than in previous years for those two reasons. If producers understand this, they’re going to need to delay the feeding of that hay. It loses about one-third of the toxins in the first 3 weeks.”
Producers can also look to ammoniate low-quality, stemmy hay for better digestibility, he adds.
Bad Weather Has Compounded Forage Problems from Fall 2017 to Summer 2018
In September 2017, Roberts worked with NRCS to develop an estimate on how much forage loss the state had at the time. But since then, dry weather has continued, further pressuring hay supplies in the Midwest.
As cattle’s natural instinct to graze kicks in, they actually grub the forage down into the ground.
Since there's not much there, they continue to pressure it, Roberts says. “Just the shortage gives you a high stock density. When they do that, then they eat down into the lower stem base, where all the sugars are that are needed for regrowth.”
In Missouri, it was the second coldest April on record and the hottest May on record, he adds. “So there was no optimum growing condition in addition to the lack of moisture.”