Livestock producers and horse enthusiasts will have to do a better job of managing how they store and feed their hay this year and into the next -- especially if they live in Kentucky, says Tom Keene, University of Kentucky extension associate.
"Our yields are down somewhere around 50% overall for our first cutting and we were very short of hay coming out of last year," Keene says. "A lot went south last year because of the drought in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Then we had the freeze in late April and droughty conditions in May and June, so we've had several strikes against us."
To help livestock producers and horse owners stretch their hay supplies, the university is working to provide them with information on proper hay storage, hay testing to help balance rations, and using other commodity feed supplements.
"Our beef producers can't afford to pay exorbitant prices for hay," he says. "The horse people may have the resources to pay some of these higher prices, but even they will have to be better managers. It's been my experience that horse people tend to throw a half a bale of hay in and, if there's a great deal left over, that's no big deal. But if we had that hay tested and balanced a ration for the type of animal, even if it is a horse, it will help everybody stretch this hay out."
University extension has also worked with the state ag department to establish a hay hotline to help producers source and sell hay, Keene says. "We've encouraged other groups around the country to post hay on the hotline and we put on links to groups like the Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association, the National Hay Association, Internet Hay Exchange and The Hay Barn."
The hotline link is: www.kyagr.com/marketing/forage/HayForageDroughtRelief.htm.
Some parts of Texas are getting an amazing amount of rain, making hay production difficult. "Texas is out of the drought, finally," says Travis Miller, Texas Cooperative Extension agronomist. "Unfortunately, the eastern U.S. and western U.S. are in drought, but we've been blessed with more than a normal amount of rainfall for a good time now."
Some areas, particularly south of San Antonio and between Temple-Killeen and San Angelo, received more than 300% of the normal rainfall from January through July, says Allan Jones, director of the Texas Water Resources Institute. And some areas, particularly around Victoria and upper East Texas, received an excess of 4' of rain during that period, Jones reports. The rest of the state shows near-normal amounts. "Virtually all of the state is in good or excess moisture conditions," Miller says.
Rainfall years such as this rarely happen; in fact, the state was recuperating from two drier-than-normal years, Jones notes. The rainfall has done a good job of filling reservoirs and soil profiles. "If you're in the cattle business, I'd say the rain is a good thing, with the exception of the hay crop," Miller says. Some producers, particularly in the eastern half of the state, got a good cutting of hay in May. "They haven't been able to harvest a second cutting," he says. "All of our hay barns were empty going into the season. It's important that we get a significant hay harvest, which we should with the moisture we have had. But we haven't had the weather to get it cut and cured for a couple of months now."
Producers in the eastern half of the state can get up to three or four cuttings of hay in mid-May, late June, August and perhaps late September, if conditions are right. Growers in the more arid and northern parts of the state get fewer. The hay in fields now has been cut so long that it has spoiled. Or, it's past maturity and has gotten stemmy and coarse. Its value has dropped, says Miller. Pastures, on the other hand, are the one bright spot in the picture. "If you're a rancher, you might have gone the last six, eight, 10 years without significant rainfall to heal (pastures) over."
However, recovery of rangelands won't happen in one year, even with the rainfall. "A lot of what we call 'ice cream grasses,' the good-quality perennial grasses, are just dead," Miller says. Perennial grass seed may be ready to germinate, but oftentimes, with this kind of rainfall, the annual grasses jump out of the blocks a little faster, and it takes a little while for the perennials to get established again, according to Miller.
To get real-time weather maps, go to Texas Weather Connection at twc.tamu.edu/.