Management plans that include alternative feeding strategies for livestock and horses will be the key to survival for producers facing severe hay shortages this year.

A dry spring followed by an early summer drought caused producers to miss several hay cuttings, said Jane Parish, beef specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Rain in some pastures after July 1 renewed producer interest in making a hay crop, but dry conditions swiftly returned later in the month in many areas of the state. Hay harvests and yields varied throughout Mississippi because of varying moisture conditions, she noted.

“Producers in eastern Alabama experienced even more severe lack of rain, and some Mississippi producers sold them hay,” Parish said. “It’s a situation where some people have plenty of hay and some don’t.”

Despite the good fortunes of some producers, the amount of hay available to carry through the winter is limited, said Extension forage specialist Rocky Lemus. Producers in the state who need hay have had to travel as far as Arkansas, Missouri and Texas to secure supplies.

“Having to purchase hay from out-of-state suppliers impacts production for our growers because purchase and transportation costs can be expensive,” he said.

Producers have several alternatives available to minimize problems the hay shortage causes. Because feed prices are less expensive in summer, producers can buy feed in bulk and stock up for the winter, Lemus said. They also can employ the practice of stockpiling by allowing cattle and horses to graze forages, such as tall fescue or bermudagrass, through the fall until small grains and annual ryegrass crops become available in December.

Producers could find a silver lining in relying on stockpiling.

“A dry situation causes many forage plants to grow slowly and store the nutrients they have to survive,” Lemus said. “While the yields may go down, the quality of the forage goes up.”

Another avenue for producers is to use residues from soybean and corn crops for feeding. To avoid nutritional deficiencies, incidents of nitrate poisoning or other problems, producers should submit samples of crop residues for analysis before feeding these to their animals.

Producers should group livestock and horses into age groups and assess the animals’ marketability. Cull the animals that are non-pregnant, the poor performers or those that exhibit bad temperaments. This will conserve hay for top performers in the operation, Parish said.

“Younger cows and calves have higher nutritional requirements, so they need the best quality hay and grazing,” she said. “Mature animals can get by on forage and feed of lesser quality.”

Several publications on livestock and horse management are available on the Extension Service Web site at http://MSUcares.com. Producers also can contact county and area Extension agents to get late-breaking information.

Lemus and Parish have written a new bulletin, “Winter Forages — Fertility and Pasture Planning,” for Extension agents. Another new bulletin authored by Lemus, “Extending the Grazing Season: Stockpiled Tall Fescue,” is available to Extension agents who work with producers on livestock management strategies.

A new publication by Lemus, “Basic Guide for Pasture Management,” will soon be available to producers and is designed to help them increase profitability.