Livestock producers in drought-stricken north-central Texas got a little relief from a 1” rainfall early last week. But more moisture is definitely needed to take pressure off hay supplies and prices, says Derek Scasta, extension agriculture agent in Navarro County. “We had an extremely dry fall,” says Scasta. “Before last week, we hadn’t had any significant rain since October. It’s definitely a tough situation for a lot of people.”

The overall lack of moisture has forced many livestock producers to begin supplemental feeding far earlier than normal this winter, Scasta notes. “If the drought conditions continue into the spring, a lot of people will have to look at making some pretty drastic decisions. This might include heavy culling or liquidating herds, finding grazing to lease, finding additional feed supplies or finding alternative water supplies for cattle.”

Some producers are comparing the current conditions to the devastating drought of 2006, he adds. “There’s a lot of hay moving up and down the road. We’ve heard some reports of producers going down the road with loads of hay on a trailer or moving bales across fields with a bale spear and getting stopped by people wanting to buy the hay on the spot.”

Shane McLellan, extension ag agent in nearby McLennan County, reports prices for grass hay packaged in 700- to 1,000-lb round bales have bumped up by $10-15/bale in recent weeks and are currently bringing $50-55/bale. “There still is some good-quality hay left over from the 2007 season,” says McLellan. “But for the most part, people are taking anything they can get. We’re essentially seeing lower-quality hay go for higher prices. They’re having to bring in hay from farther away, so transportation costs are eating them up, too.”

The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows drought conditions exist in two-thirds of the state, up from 25% one month ago. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, released by the National Weather Service on Feb. 5 predicts that the drought could intensify and expand in Texas and parts of neighboring states over the next several months.

The Texas Department of Agriculture maintains a hay and grazing hotline to connect buyers and sellers. For more details, call 877-429-1998 or go to www.agr.state.tx.us.