Recent rains improved pastures and helped livestock producers get some more hay put up, but hay supplies are still short after a challenging year, says Gene Schmitz, a University of Missouri Extension livestock field specialist who serves several counties in central Missouri.
“From what I’ve been asking folks all summer long, and even now, the hay crop has been down a third to a half in the area I cover,” he says. “That’s the number I’ve been consistently hearing.”
The cold start to spring, followed by a rapid shift to warmer weather, slowed forage production in most of Missouri this year. Then much of the state dealt with drought conditions during the summer. It limited the quantity, but also affected the quality in places, Schmitz says.
“Quality wise, it’s all over the board,” he says.
According to the Oct. 22 USDA Crop Progress report, supply of hay and other roughages in Missouri was 72 percent short or very short. Current pasture conditions ranked 7 percent very poor, 25 percent poor, 35 percent fair, 30 percent good and 3 percent excellent.
As for how short the hay supply could be over the winter, it varies some by location. Schmitz says the drought was especially an issue in northern Missouri.
“I think that’s real location dependent,” he says. “North of I-70, it was a much more critical issue in the summer than it was in other locations.”
Schmitz says rain this fall improved the situation.
“The fall rains have helped pastures, and there was some additional hay produced then,” he says. “That’ll help some.”
Heavy rains in the first half of October help lift most of Missouri out of drought status. On the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Oct. 18, 2.98 percent of the state was in drought status, all level one drought. On the map, 32.34 percent of Missouri was “abnormally dry” or in drought.
The weather in late fall and during the winter will have a big impact on the forage situation.
“I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet,” Schmitz says. “I know some producers who have sold cows. A cold, wet winter, we’re feeding more hay. How soon does spring come?”
Some producers already had to feed hay during the summer and will probably need to feed more due to the forage shortage, Schmitz says.
“In general, people are looking at a longer hay feeding season than what they normally experience,” he says.
Due to the shortage and the drought’s impact on the corn crop, many producers opted to chop corn for silage, which helps the feed situation heading into winter.
“The other thing that’s helped a lot in some locations, producers either chopped silage or rolled it up as baleage,” Schmitz says.
It can be a good idea to submit silage samples for nitrate testing, especially if it was drought-stressed corn, Schmitz says. It’s more of an issue when chopped corn is baled than when it is ensiled in a silage pit.
Craig Roberts, state forage specialist for MU Extension, says producers have been putting up as much hay as they can at the end of the growing season.
“People are cutting fall pastures in hopes of putting up hay for the winter,” he says. “I have heard several who cut Bermuda grass. I got an email yesterday regarding someone putting up fall fescue hay.”
Roberts says it can be safe to cut fescue late, but producers should be careful about its toxin levels and consider testing. Much of Missouri’s tall fescue has a naturally occurring toxin that peaks at different times of the year.
“The fescue will survive a cut, but the ergot alkaloids will likely be high this fall, coming after a drought,” he says. “Also, it is high in moisture content with little hot and dry weather to field cure. I hope they are not making baleage out of (the fescue). Toxins are preserved when fescue is ensiled.”