A late spring and dry summer left much of Missouri in a serious drought this year. Fall rains brought relief, but many producers still face limited forage this winter.
In West Central Missouri, Loren Fischer focused on making the hay he needed to prepare for winter feeding. Fischer and his dad run a large cow-calf operation in southern Bates County.
“I started buying cows right out of high school,” Fischer said.
Unlike a lot of producers, Fischer was able to harvest enough hay this year to meet his quota. But it wasn’t without effort.
“We bale all our own hay — around 2,000 bales,” he said.
The majority is fescue and brome, with a little clover mixed in. Early on, Fischer spread fertilizer in his hay fields to maximize tonnage. If the rains fall just right, he sees results.
“This year I went back to get a second cutting on a lot of the ground,” he said.
But the key to getting the tonnage Fischer needs lies in Sudan grass.
“This will be the third year I’ve done Sudan grass,” he said.
After the first cutting of hay, Fischer comes back and drills Sudan for his second cutting.
“I hit it real hard with fertilizer and chopped some of it because it got ahead of me,” he said.
The alternative forage has worked well, providing additional tonnage throughout the growing season.
“I started using Sudan more just because it’s hard to come up with hay ground. It’s hard to rent pasture and harder to buy it,” Fischer said. “I’m trying to figure out how to get more out of what I have and stay closer to home. I’ve definitely accomplished that.”
It isn’t a perfect fix though.
“Sudan is a challenge,” he said. “It’s best if you don’t let it get away. It makes you feel better when it’s 6 foot tall, but the quality is falling off then.”
The grass is best when it’s around 4 feet high, but it grows fast and harvest takes about a week.
“You have to run it through a mower conditioner. Then you have to ted it out and let it dry,” Fischer said.
The other challenge is having time to drill the seed.
“You create a whole lot more work. But when everyone was starting to complain about not having any hay, I was drilling Sudan left and right,” he said.
Fischer works to keep his cows grazing until January. When it’s time to feed hay, he hauls his spring calving cows closer to the headquarters and feeds the Sudan hay first.
“I can haul cows in a couple days and save hours during the winter,” he said. “Once the grass gets short, we’ll have hay set out everywhere.”
Farther north, near Warrensburg, Missouri, John Dameron relies on corn silage to fill in the gaps during the winter. Dameron and his brother run around 400 cow-calf pairs, bale their own hay and raise their own grain.
“We feed silage out of necessity if we think there’s a lack of forage,” Dameron said. “We haven’t chopped silage since 2012, but this year the hay crop was only 50-60 percent of normal and hay was high.”
With hay selling for $70 or more per bale, it was an easy economic decision this year.
“We can chop silage for $40 a ton,” he said. Dameron and his brother chopped around 65 acres of corn this summer and put 800 to 1,000 tons in the silo.
“It wasn’t low-yield corn by any means. The insurance adjuster appraised it at 140 to 150 bushels per acre,” he said.
The silage will extend hay supplies and provide necessary nutrients to younger cows.
“We’ll probably open the silo in mid to late-December and feed cows 25 to 30 pounds each day,” Dameron said. This equates to around 15 pounds dry matter. “With the amount of grain we think is in there, that’s comparable to about 3 to 5 pounds,” he said.
Dameron plans to reserve the silage for his spring herd and hopes it will carry him through March.
“That’s always the catch — how late into the spring you have to feed it. They’ll eat [silage] even when the grass greens up,” he said. “But we will not want to have any left over.”