The hay supply is down nearly by half in Wisconsin, even though the dairy-forage reserve – including corn silage – is adequate, said Dan Undersander.

The University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist discussed how drought affected the southern part of the state at the recent Risk Management Research Summit held in Rochester, MN.

Alfalfa didn’t get the moisture it needed early in the growing season, reducing number of cuttings and yields across the bottom half of Wisconsin, Undersander said. Drought also forced underdeveloped corn-grain acres to be chopped for silage.

“What we always see in a drought is that our percentage of silage goes up and our percentage of hay goes down. The dairy industry - we're not in as bad a shape as some other industries are. The group that's going to get hit the worst is the horse owner,” he said.

Iowa’s also low on hay, added his Iowa State University counterpart, Stephen Barnhart. The forage specialists offered reports at a joint meeting of the Midwest Forage Association and Industry Extension Forage Advisory Council in November.

“Alfalfa’s recovery during summer growth cycles was marginal. We were down certainly 40-50% per cutting for whatever cuttings we were getting in midsummer. Leafhoppers weren’t all that bad, but were a management issue,” Barnhart said.

Although Iowa has had some recent rains, it’s low in topsoil and subsoil moisture, he warned. “That’s becoming the concern from our row-crop and our forage people for the next growing season.”

Wisconsin hay prices have been averaging $250-275/ton for prime crop regardless of bale form, $200/ton for hay ranging from 125 to 150 relative feed value (RFV) and $150/ton for 100-124 RFV hay, said Undersander. Hay prices are much the same in Iowa.

Where they’ll go this winter is anyone’s guess, Undersander said.

“I have no idea. A lot of people are culling their herds, but we don't know by how much yet. And the extent of that culling is going to have a big impact.”

So will weather, he said. “Last year we had a mild winter and we didn’t need as much hay per animal. We may see the prices decline more towards spring if animal units go down and we have a mild winter.”

The forage specialists say high nitrates in feeds continue to be a problem that needs monitoring.

“Our veterinarians have identified over 150 animals that we’ve lost to nitrate poisoning under various circumstances,” Barnhart pointed out. “The earliest losses were green-chopping drought-stressed crops with high nitrates and not paying attention to the concentrations. Next was that nitrates are still present in cornstalks after grain harvest. They are not completely leaching away. Those corn crops that were rolled up earlier in the summer may have been high in nitrate. If we feed those in March, they’re still going to be high in nitrate. Producers are going to have to watch that.”

With recent rains, some of the nitrate may have leached out, but the specialists urge producers to test suspect forages before feeding.

“One in 10 samples of our corn silage is coming back with 1,000 parts per billion (of nitrate), which we consider toxic levels,” Undersander said.

“If you’re grazing cornstalks, animals can adjust to nitrate a little bit. Our animal scientists suggest that we could probably go above 5,000 ppb with a couple of weeks of adaptation.”

For more information on nitrates, see “Check Nitrates Before Using Droughty Corn As Feed.”