Feed sources become scarce as southeast U.S. burns

Jun 24, 2011
by DTN

Southeast producers are realizing they need to move their calves to save the cows. In some places, cattlemen are down to little or no forage at all and other feed sources are all in short supply. That report, from John Moseley Jr., marks a shift in the mindset of southeast cattlemen this year and another turning point for the market.

Moseley, who operates Moseley Cattle Auction with his three sons, is a marketing consultant for both the Alabama and Georgia SAFE programs. He says he’s seeing producers move cattle onto the market 40 to 60 days earlier. Many are missing preconditioning sales, a management fundamental for many who work toward those premiums all year long. But this year, they can’t wait to sell.

Moseley says he’s suggesting if producers want to hold out for those preconditioning sales, they wean 25 to 35 days earlier than normal and then go with any kind of feed source they can find. “It’s all in short supply with the drought right now,” he says.

He adds last year’s feed for preconditioning ran between $90 and $150 per ton. This year, it’s $150 to $225 per ton.

In addition to bringing calves to market early, Moseley says he’s also seeing more culling of cows. At this point, he says all producers can do is hope for some rain. But in many areas, it may already be too late. The state’s pasture conditions are rated 67 per cent poor to very poor and severe drought conditions cover 72 percent of the state.

Dennis Hancock, forage specialist at the University of Georgia, says culling may be necessary this year. In addition, he recommends identifying and using what he calls “sacrifice pastures or paddocks” as an attempt to confine damage to pastures to one or two small areas, rather than overgrazing the entire farm.

“It is less expensive to cull and depopulate than it will be to feed lots of hay or destroy your pastures,” he says. Another option is to harvest drought-stressed corn wherever that is an option.

“Sometimes the best salvage value for corn when you’re in drought is to use it for forage,” he says. If the decision is made to do that, he recommends producers consider a few factors to be sure they aren’t feeding their herd forage that is too high in nitrates, which can create serous health issues or even death. Green chop and feed If the goal is to green chop and feed directly, he says don’t go below the 12to 15-inch mark when you cut. The lower in the stem you cut, the more concentrated nitrates become.

Make hay

Another option is to make hay out of the corn. Nitrates won’t dissipate in the hay, so, again, cutting height needs to be fairly high, 8 to 12 inches in this case. “Cattle will pick through hay a little more and select more leaf material. This lowers nitrate intake, which means you can bring that cutting height down a little.” He adds there is a problem getting it to dry down and the best solution may be to let it cure out in the windrow if the high cutting height makes raking too difficult. It’s also important to use a conditioner.

Graze it directly

A third option is to graze the crop, but Hancock says it’s important not to turn the herd in hungry or to mob graze so tightly the animals get below the 6- to 8-inch level on the stalk. He suggests grazing in a frontal pattern, moving them away from the water resource little by little.

Silage a good step

Lastly, silage is another option ... and in some cases, the best. Silage will reduce nitrate concentration in the crop, maintain more of the quality, and reduce the amount of time required to handle it. A good fermentation reduces nitrates 50 percent to 60 percent.

“Regardless of how it’s harvested, it’s important to test for nitrates,” stresses Hancock. “Field kits will give you an idea as to whether you’re at safe or elevated nitrate levels, but to really quantify it, you need to take it to a lab and run a nitrate analysis. That’s the only way you’ll know how much to dilute the forage down when creating a ration that’s safe.”