Any cattle producer impacted by this summer’s dry weather may need to look at his or her herd with a critical eye and evaluate feeding options, says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.
“It’s an excellent time to take inventory of your feed supply and think about culling your herd,” he says.
Culling makes sense for producers faced with feed-supply issues, Kallenbach says. Cows with a history of calving problems, poor teeth or those that remain open can be sold to save hay and money. Culled cattle can garner a pretty penny now thanks to prices holding steady.
“Often when we have to sell out of a drought, we’re also looking at depressed animal prices. But cull-cow prices are really good right now despite all the hardships,” he says.
Once a herd is streamlined, the producer should evaluate whether there’s enough hay to make it through the winter. If hay reserves run low, they can be supplemented with other feed sources, such as distillers grain and corn gluten feed. Some cattlemen will dip into lower-quality hay to meet their needs. Kallenbach says that ammonification of lower-quality forages gets more use when farmers are trying to stretch hay supplies for cows in good body condition.
“You can take some pretty poor fescue hay or other feedstuffs, cover the stack in plastic and add 60 lbs of anhydrous ammonia per ton to bump up the non-protein nitrogen in the feed and make it more digestible or usable by the animal,” he says.
Other strategies to stretch that hay crop a little farther include limiting the amount of time that cows have access to hay racks.
“Most producers give their cows 24-hour access to hay, but they can limit that to an eight-hour access period. The herd will eat 90% of what they’d eat otherwise, but you stretch out the hay supply 10%. While that might not sound like a lot, it can get you a little further through the winter.”
It remains important to test your forage for quality, Kallenbach says. Hay baled during drought-like conditions can contain high nitrate levels that can poison cattle. Knowing the nutrient levels cattle will get from your hay crop helps you make the right feeding decisions.
For those who know they won’t have enough bales to make it through the winter, the Missouri Department of Agriculture offers a hay directory at www.mda.mo.gov/abd/haydirectory.