Drought and Hay Alert
As drought continues and growing season has ended with first frost across our two counties of Jackson and Swain and adjacent counties, livestock producers could be scrambling for hay as winter advances. Several producers are already feeding hay and this will put a strain on their supplies come winter. North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a special website called “Hay Alert,” http://www.ncagr.gov/hayalert/. This Web site is designed to bring together farmers in need of hay with those who have hay or forage for sale. If farmers have hay for sale or need hay, NCDA&CS will list their names, addresses and other pertinent information. It will then be the responsibility of the buyers and sellers to negotiate sales. Under the browse menu “Hay wanted by NC County” is an option you can select to narrow your search.
Other livestock feeding management considerations include taking inventory of how much hay you are feeding and how much you are going to need. The quality of your hay is important also. Low quality hay can be fed to dry cows and maintain the body condition while lactating cows need higher quality hay. The best way to know just how good your hay is, is to have it tested. Hay that is lacking protein and TDN will need to be supplemented. Alternative feed stocks, range cubes, and corn fodder can help stretch your hay stocks and allow your animals to hold their condition, which can help with pregnancy rates during drought.
Finally, be thinking about depopulation. If hay supplies are short, prioritizing open or old cows to cull is a good fallback position. Focus your feed resources on animals that are your best investments. For spring born calves, early weaning is a viable option. The cows will regain body condition quicker and dry cows require 30-40% less energy protein than a lactating cow. Culling 15-20% of the herd combined with early but ethical weaning can reduce feed need by 50%.
Long term, it is now time to prepare your forage for future drought. How do we accomplish this? As with any good farmer or cattlemen, “weather watching,” such as keeping up with the extended forecast will help you determine if there is a possibility of potentially overgrazing drought stressed pastures. Of course, climate predictions are not always accurate, so we can’t control the weather, but we can control how much rain can be stored in our pastures with good plant (pasture) management. Therefore, we to need to think about the part of the plant that we don’t see, that is the roots. Rooting depth and exploration are a critical part to a plant’s ability to survive and recover from drought. Root development is influenced by soil pH, soil fertility and water, more than any other factors. Having proper soil pH and fertility is essential to helping plants tap into water stored deeper in the soil profile. Phosphorus and potassium are essential for root development. Overgrazed pastures take longer to recover and are more susceptible to weeds germinating and taking over when it does rain. One way to combat this is to designate a sacrifice area, only a small portion of your pasture becomes damaged. Be thinking ahead of where this sacrifice area would best fit into your operation.
These strategies may not fit into your management plan, but they should get you thinking about having a drought plan in place for your operation now and in the future.
If you are unable to access the NCDA & CS website mentioned above, please call Robert J. Hawk with the Jackson (586-4009) and Swain (488-3848) Extension and I will help you locate hay on this website or have a list of local sources for you to contact. Email is “firstname.lastname@example.org.”