Drought Conditions Leads To Shortage In Hay For Area Producers

Ranchers across the Midwest are facing a shortage of forage due to this year's drought. According to a survey conducted by NDSU Extension ranchers across the state reported a 51-75% reduction in hay with reductions of 76-100% being reported in the counties that were in exceptional drought (D4) for much of the growing season. 

This is forcing ranchers to use several methods to address the forage shortage, including harvesting failed crops as livestock feed, planting annual forages, purchasing hay, reducing herd size, early weaning and sending cattle out of state to be fed.

"This reduction in forage production led to deep culling in many herds this summer, as well as some ranchers sending animals out of state and early weaning to reduce forage demands. Overall, the drought has been very stressful for livestock producers across the state," said Miranda Meehan, Ph.D., NDSU Ext. Livestock Environmental Stewardship specialist. 

Meehan explained that there are several steps for producers to take to combat the effect of the forage shortage. It is important that livestock producers delay grazing in overgrazed pastures next spring to allow them to recover. To compensate for reduced forage production many livestock producers put up failed crops. Many drought-stressed crops have toxicity concerns that can make them poisonous to livestock, one of the greatest concerns is the potential for nitrate poisoning, livestock producers should test any crops that are known to contain nitrate accumulators before feeding to livestock, so they can be fed safely. 

Another thing livestock producers need to be aware of is the potential for vitamin A deficiency associated with low quality forages that may results in increased abortions or impact calf growth next spring. 

When bringing in hay and feed from another area be aware of the potential of introducing noxious weeds. Try to feed these resources in an area where weed outbreaks can be easily controlled, such as a lot. Also be sure to manage the manure in a way to reduce the viability of these seeds, composting is an effective way to do this for most noxious weeds.  

She explained that the greatest impacts of the drought have been the challenges accessing an adequate supply of good quality water; many ponds and dugouts dried up, creating toxic levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) and/or sulfates, and cyanobacteria blooms. Through Aug. 31, 2021, NDSU Extension agents screened 1,338 water samples from 1,052 locations in 37 counties, 122 had elevated TDS and 263 had potentially toxic sulfate levels. 

Meehan said, "The biggest thing is to take care of yourself and hold onto your optimism. Thankfully, fall rains and a strong chance of a wetter winter has reduced the potential of this becoming a multi-year drought. However, we will see the impacts of this drought carry into next year."

Livestock producers looking for more information on drought management should reach out to their local extension agents for more information.


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