Several areas of Arkansas have experienced drought conditions, and one effect is a short hay crop, said Robert Felsman. “If dry conditions continue, hay feeding may have to start in late summer or early fall and further increase the need for hay this winter,” said Felsman, Extension livestock management specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).
To ensure enough forage is available to get a cow herd through the winter, Felsman suggested the following:
- Figure up your hay needs and try to get it. Plan for extra hay as carryover or for an extended hay-feeding period. Purchase hay if need be. Some folks in Arkansas are harvesting and selling hay now.
- Hunt for hay markets or hay sources in surrounding states.
- Manage grazing to conserve pastures. Close gates, put up temporary fences and rotationally graze pastures for maximum grazing. Bale some ungrazed fields now and hold some fields for grazing later in the summer or fall. Do not throw open all gates on the farm — that would cause spot grazing and lost forage.
Felsman also advised cattlemen to look at byproduct feeds because they often are inexpensive, in good supply and excellent cattle feeds.
He suggested the following nine byproduct feeds:
- Cottonseed hulls make an excellent winter feed and are an excellent substitute for forages or hay.
- Whole cottonseed has a higher energy and protein content than hulls and makes a good supplement to hay.
- Soybean hay, when baled early with green leaves, makes good hay.
- Baled milo or sorghum stubble makes good hay. Bale shortly after the grain has been harvested.
- Corn stalks, leaves and husks can be fed. They can be chopped or coarse ground to improve feed intake and feed quality.
- Rice stubble can be baled. A few weeks after the rice has been harvested, fresh green growth appears on the plants, and it can be baled.
- Rice bran can be used to supplement hay; limit it to about 20 percent to 30 percent of the total daily feed intake.
- Rice mill feed can be fed in limited qualities — 20 percent to 30 percent of the total daily feed. It is not very digestible and is basically filler. But it can replace some forage in the daily feed.
- Soybean hulls are excellent cattle feed, they can replace some forage in the daily feed and can supplement poor quality hay or grazing. Calves can be grown or finished out on soybean hulls.
Other byproduct feeds are on the market, but Felsman said cattlemen who discover ones they're unfamiliar with should check with their county Extension agent about proper use, feeding value and cost.
He also advised ranchers to work with their county agent to come up with feeding programs which include byproduct feeds and needed protein, energy, roughage and mineral supplements.
To stretch winter feed, Felsman suggested ranchers consider planting cool-season grass for winter grazing even though this may seem questionable in light of having enough moisture for it to grow.
“Usually rains increase in late September, and with these rains, wheat, ryegrass and clover or rye, ryegrass and clover will supply needed forage and grazing,” said Felsman.
Ranchers should consider culling some cows and weaning some calves early as dry cows eat less and calves are very efficient users of concentrate feeds.
Some cattlemen may consider irrigating pastures or hay land if they have access to large stock ponds or other adequate water sources.
Carol Sanders is a writer/editor for the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (870-575-7238 or firstname.lastname@example.org).