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Cattle producers face grass, hay shortage
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi farmers are in the same boat as most cattle producers across the country, and there is no water around any of them.
“If it doesn't start raining somewhere in the next month or so, including Texas and Oklahoma, the demand for calves will be affected. There won't be much winter grazing,” said John Anderson, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. “All the areas around the country that do a lot of winter grazing have been very dry. It's going to affect the demand side of the market if at least some of these areas don't get significant rain in time to establish winter annual pastures.”
Anderson said these are abnormally dry to severe drought conditions throughout the midsection of the country and the Southeast.
“We need to see improvements beyond Mississippi's borders. Hay is going to be very scarce in all states,” he said.
According to the National Agricultural Statistic Service in mid-July, 60 percent of Mississippi's pasture and hay land conditions are listed as poor or very poor. The same conditions can be found in 83 percent of Alabama pastures, 63 percent in Texas and 61 percent in Oklahoma.
“We may still get enough rain for good fall season grazing. Even if that does occur, people will need to look at other feeding options,” Anderson said.
Jane Parish, assistant Extension professor of animal and dairy science, said the biggest concern now is that producers are significantly behind on their hay cuttings and will enter winter with reduced supplies.
“An additional problem is that the grass shortage is forcing cattle producers to feed hay now,” Parish said. “Hay produced during a drought like this is often cut under less than ideal management, and the quality may be significantly reduced.”
Parish said producers should look for soybean hull pellets, corn gluten feed and other alternative feeds if they have appropriate storage facilities. They may be able to cut expenses if they join with other cattle producers to buy in bulk.
Producers need to take an inventory of their cattle and divide them into nutritional groups such as replacement heifers; lactating, mature cows; and dry cows. Consider the different nutrient needs of each group, then estimate how much feed will be needed to get through the fall and winter. Analyze pasture conditions and feed storage capabilities.
“It's time to start making decisions. If feed will be close or short, cows will not be in proper condition for reproduction, and weaned calves will be lighter,” Parish said.
Parish encouraged farmers to cull to the group they prefer to carry into the winter. First-calf heifers will have the highest nutrient demands, so early weaning of their calves could help these mothers.
Mike Keene, area Extension livestock and forages agent based in Forrest County, said most producers are reluctant to give up on hopes of producing or finding hay.
“As a whole, we are looking at about half our normal hay cutting. Farmers are hunting for supplies, and if they find any, they will be paying 20 percent or more than last year,” Keene said. “Winter grazing will be more important than normal. They will probably plant earlier than usual and that could increase (disease) problems.”
Mississippi has nearly 1 million head of cattle. Half are stocker cattle and the other half are in typical cow/calf operations. There are about 20,000 producers in the state, with the majority being smaller producers with other off-farm incomes.