Farm Talk

February 7, 2013

Cattlemen struggle to find forage

by Kenny Ragland

Parsons, Kansas — Raising cattle in Northwest Missouri couldn’t be any harder. With the ongoing drought, ranchers struggle to come up with enough hay to feed their cow-calf operations.

University of Missouri Agriculture Business Specialist Robert Kelly advised local cattlemen with the latest financial numbers, weather predictions and business projections on Jan. 17 at the Andrew County Ag. Update in Savannah, Mo.

Ranchers from throughout the area came to the Clasbey Center to hear the latest business and weather updates.

“You will make money in the end,” said Kelly, “if you can just hang on.”

With cattle numbers at all time lows and still decreasing, that is certainly easier said than done.

“National numbers are the lowest they have been since the 1930s,” said local order buyer Joe Lyle. “It is the cow-calf numbers that are really low around here.”

Lyle raises cattle as well as works for John Clay Order Buying in the Northwest Missouri area. Order buyers are middlemen who purchase feeder calves straight from cow-calf operators. They then market the feeder calves to feedlot operations throughout the Midwest.

Raising enough forage on limited rainfall will probably remain the biggest problem for area cattlemen.

“We are entering the 2013 year with soil moisture levels 9-12 inches below normal,” Kelly said. “Even spring fed ponds are only receiving half the rate of flow they normally would.”

The chances of more rain coming don’t look good either.

“The intense drought in Texas has now moved up to our Northwest Missouri area,” said University of Missouri Horticulture Specialist Tom Fowler. “The precipitation outlook for this coming growing season is not good.”

Coming up with feed by blending forages was one thing Kelly went over with the cattle growers.

“If you can afford the equipment to mulch or ensile,” he said, “you can blend in high nitrate corn stalks with other forage matter and come up with acceptable feed for the cattle.”

High nitrate testing corn stalks was a huge problem in Northwest Missouri, as growers who lost corn crops tried to use the baled stalks for cattle forage.

“When that testing solution goes black,” Kelly said, “waiting a month and testing again doesn’t make that high nitrate level go away.”

Coming up with the mulch-ing and blending equipment was no easy thing for area cattlemen.

“I don’t have any way to do that,” said Rick Thornton, from the Helena nearby rural community. “But I do plan to work with cover crops and graze properly to stretch out my forage.”

Growers can plant oats, cereal rye and turnips. This summer, planting Sudan grass can yield a cover crop for cattle. Also wheat planted early enough next fall, can yield very good grazing forage for cattle.

Renting additional forage is another way ranchers can go, if they can find any.

“Average pasture rents are $45-$85 per acre,” Kelly said. “But finding available pasture that isn’t already rented is very difficult.”

Because commodity prices are so high, many acres of pasture have been tilled into row crop production.

“Available grassland is decreasing right now,” Kelly said. “It will probably be that way for another 3-5 years.”

Kelly further encouraged cow-calf operators to cull their herds.

“If you have a cow that is not bred, she will cost thereabouts $2.40 a day to keep in hay,” he said. “Moving that cow on may very well be a good idea, with forage costs where they are.”

Cattle prices, for growers wanting to improve their herds are prohibitive when looking at replacement cows.

“We are seeing prices of $1,800 for a cow-calf pair,” Kelly said. “That may very well go up another $200 the way things look.”

Poor moisture outlooks don’t necessarily mean that it won’t rain.

“The prediction for chances of low rainfall is balanced by an opposite and equal chance of adequate rainfall,” Fowler said. “Hopefully this will be the case for our Northwest Missouri cow-calf operators.”

The University of Missouri Website for hay purchase is  http://www.hay Last year truckers knocked the hauling fee of $4 per ton down to $2 per ton for Missouri cattlemen. Average prices are $150 per ton for good grass hay, $125 per ton for fair hay, $40 per bale for corn stalks, $75 for large hay bales, $45 per ton for corn silage and $7.47 per bushel for corn at press time from Bartlett Grain in St. Joseph. £