by: Linda Breazeale
MSU Ag Communications

Mississippi State --
Mississippi could join Texas, Oklahoma and other southeastern states in widespread shortages of hay and forages if dry conditions continue.

Rocky Lemus, forage and grazing systems specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said Mississippi cattle producers are seeing about 50 percent losses of pasture and hay production.

“The southwestern part of the state is very dry. Spotty showers have provided some relief, but much more rain is needed statewide,” Lemus said.

Drought conditions can cause more challenges than just shortages in grass and hay.

“Plants accumulate more nitrogen when drought-stressed, and that can cause nitrate poisoning in cattle,” he said. “If producers are spraying pastures during droughts, herbicides will not be as effective, since most them need moisture to move into the root systems. Extending the grazing restriction might be a good idea if herbicides have been applied during the drought conditions. Also, some weeds could be more toxic during stressed conditions.”

Lemus said when rains help green up pastures, producers should delay returning cattle to allow time for the grass to recover.

Bruce Roberts runs a cow/calf operation in Pearl River County. He said the early summer drought hurt water supplies in ponds before impacting grass.

Eventually, his pastures became too short, too.

“It was really ugly by the end of June, but it's looking much better now. I had to feed some ryegrass hay around the first of July before we got a good rain that got the grass growing again. The cattle are in good shape because of the mineral program they have been on,” Roberts said.

Still, Roberts predicts a “mad rush” to get hay for this winter.

“I had put up 600 bales early in the summer, then had to feed 90 of them. We will need a total of 1,100 to get us through the winter,” he said.

Jane Parish, Extension beef cattle specialist, said producers are experiencing high feed prices at a time when grass is in short supply. Many producers are lowering their stocking rates to compensate for grass and hay shortages.

Another strategy is to wean sooner than normal to give cattle time to recondition before the next pregnancy.

“Fortunately, cattle prices are still relatively good. A lot of the heifers that would normally be held for replacements are going to feedlots instead,” she said. “The long-term forecast looks good for prices if producers can hold out. The national herd is small, so prices could become even stronger.”

Flooding along the Mississippi River caused problems for a handful of cattle producers this year.

“If ponds were flooded by the river, producers have to worry about possible chemical contamination,” Parish said. “Old batteries, arsenic and lead are some potential problems as well as a lot of bacteria that grow in wet conditions. We worry about some cattle diseases transferring through contaminated water even during normal conditions.”

Parish said most Mississippi cattle producers are in much better shape than those in Texas and Oklahoma.

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