Although late summer rains brought some relief to Tennessee's severe drought, production estimates show that farmers will still be facing substantial hay shortages going into the fall and winter.
The Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that hay production, excluding alfalfa, will be 33 percent lower than 2006 at 2.79 million tons. The shortage is mainly the result of the April freeze that cut spring hay harvest in half and the summer drought that limited additional cuttings of pastures and hayfields.
As farmers continue to scramble to find hay to feed their cattle, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative livestock experts are offering advice to help get herds in good condition before winter weather arrives.
“It is cheaper to maintain cows than to let them become thin and try to add body condition later,” says Dr. Paul Davis, TFC nutritionist. “As the weather turns colder, it becomes even more difficult to add the weight they need to come through the winter in adequate body condition.”
In an overall herd management program, proper animal health cannot be overlooked, Davis says, since healthy cattle are more efficient users of nutrition.
“Follow a comprehensive herd health plan that includes deworming and external parasite control,” he says. “A heavy parasite load could rob 15 to 20 percent of nutrients.”
Likewise, he adds, grouping cows according to body condition and stage of production will allow for more efficiency through targeted feeding. For example, reserve better pastures or hay for young, thin, or heavy milking cows, and allow animals that need less nutrition to graze shorter, lower-quality pastures or eat lesser-quality hay.
As alternative feeding options, Co-op has introduced several forage-extending feeds in addition to its complete line of beef feeds. Recommended products include the economical Co-op Beef Builder line, limiter pellets, and pasture extenders, all available in both bagged and bulk forms. They can be hand-fed or most can be offered free-choice to “stretch” or nearly replace hay. Co-op's livestock specialists can assess specific nutritional needs for each producer's herd and make sound recommendations for fall and winter feeding.
“These feeds have been developed specifically for Tennessee cattle producers,” says Davis. “No matter what your situation, we have a feed that you may want to consider, especially with the short supplies and high cost of hay this season. Our goal is to help farmers through this challenging time so they can stay in the beef business and remain Co-op customers for years to come.”