The drought has made it difficult for ranchers to store hay for the upcoming winter season.

Hay yields in 2022 will be much lower than last year, and in areas with the worst droughts, there is no hay season.

“Producers don’t have anything to pack,” said Gary Strickland, agricultural extension director at Oklahoma State University in Jackson County. “They probably got one patch of clover, maybe a second if it was under irrigation.”

In the dryland fields of the southwestern region, summer forages, such as Sudanese grasses and pearl millet, showed very little growth. Strickland toured five provincial counties two weeks ago and found field after field of grass burned from drought and extreme heat.

“The nutritional toxicity associated with Sudanese grasses and sorghum in drought is also a concern,” Strickland said in a university news release. “We had very little wheat straw hay because of the high wheat acreage, and the irrigated Bermuda grass is not producing the tonnage it normally does.”

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Dryland Bermudagrass needs rain and cool temperatures to recover before winter. The current environment of extreme heat in the evening hours did not allow the grasses to recover overnight from the heat of the day.

“A lot of producers say they don’t have the hay to support their herds, and they’ve had to get cattle off pastures earlier than usual to prevent cattle from grazing perennial grasses too low,” he said.

Southwest Oklahoma isn’t the only area experiencing the crisis.

“Our producers are talking about feeding hay in mid-August instead of starting in mid-October,” said Chad Webb, director of agricultural extension at Ohio State University and an agriculture educator in Noble County, Oklahoma. “That’s two months of feeding with less hay.”

The pressure from high input costs and low feed supplies is difficult for livestock farmers. Less hay is available to purchase in drought years, and hay prices can contribute to higher input costs. Webb said some ranchers in his county are considering planting wheat for winter feed. Others are reducing their operations’ stocking rates to levels that can be maintained through the rest of the summer and into the fall.

Paul Beck, a beef nutritionist at Ohio State University, offered the following tips for developing a sustainable herd plan for the winter:

  • For producers who typically reserve or buy calves, sell them early or market them in a farm yard or feedlot. When feed production is limited, these calves can reduce cow culling.
  • Selling replacement heifers. These females will not provide a marketable calf for more than a year.
  • Reduce the herd to a reasonable number by selling cows that are older, less productive, or require higher levels of nutrients.
  • Fence the farm now before you start feeding hay. Dividing the farm allows pastures to rest and recover through rotational grazing.
  • Determine how much hay you have and how much you can feed each day for the expected feeding period. Feeding up to 10 pounds per day per cow may require purchasing more hay or roughage.
  • Test hay and other roughage sources to determine protein and energy amounts. Ohio State University Extension specialist Brian Arnall discusses bagging summer crops for alternative forage on The Ohio State University Agricultural University’s SUNUP TV show.
  • Consider planting warm-season annuals as a grazing crop in late summer to fill early fall forage gaps. Warm-season annuals can produce 4 to 5 tons of dry matter per acre in 45 days when planted in late summer.
  • Plant cool-season annual grasses in pastures.
  • Balance the supplements or nutrition program appropriate for the process.
  • Consider feeding monensin to cows. It has been shown to reduce feed intake by 8% without affecting cow body weight or body condition.

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