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State's Cattlemen Prepare for Winter
PRAIRIE -- Squirrels and woollyworms aren't the only ones preparing for winter. Cooler temperatures signal the conclusion of hay harvesting and of planting time for winter grasses for Mississippi's cattle.
Although beef prices could be and have been worse, many cattle producers plan to feed their herds until spring, when better prices are more likely.
Dr. Rick Evans, Mississippi State University livestock specialist at Prairie, said farmers should cull their herds down to their hay supplies. Dry weather caused many growers to miss early summer hay cuttings. Late summer rains boosted growth of hay, but hampered early fall harvest and reduced nutritional quality.
"Cut hay does not cure on the ground as fast in the fall as in June or July," Evans said. "Rains and cool weather made some late fields as much as a month behind optimal harvesting time."
Evans said nutritional quality declines as hay grows past the ideal cutting stage and as cut hay remains on the ground unbaled.
Dr. Charlie Forrest, extension agricultural economist at MSU, said cattle prices have been holding steady -- a good sign for this time of year.
With a potential hay shortage approaching, many cattle producers are planting winter grasses to help their animals through the cold months ahead.
Dr. Pat Bagley, MSU extension specialist in Verona, said hay prices are running 10 to 15 percent higher this year. Some alfalfa hay is about 40 percent higher.
"When hay is at a premium, it is even more important farmers make their hay purchases early and accurately estimate their future needs," Bagley said. "Hay purchased in January and February is generally more expensive and of lower quality."
Bagley said grazing is almost always the cheapest way of helping cattle gain weight. Winter grasses are less expensive sources of protein than alternative supplements.
Farmers can lengthen the grazing season by planting winter grasses such as fescue, ryegrass or wheat, winter clovers, strategic fertilization and rotational grazing.
"Ryegrass is probably the most widely planted crop for grazing," Bagley added. "Farmers should consult their county agents for names of cold-tolerant ryegrass varieties and for fertilization recommendations."