Published on 05/19/99

Drought has Georgia Cattlemen Planning Ahead for Winter

Georgia's drought conditions have cattlemen worried about how the lack of rain is affecting their winter hay supply.

When you rely on hay to feed your animals, you have good reason to worry when the fields are parched. Newton County cattleman James Ruark is praying for rain for his alfalfa hay fields. "My fields only got about a half an inch of rain in April and that's not hardly enough to do any good," said Ruark. "We're not out of grass or out of pasture, but we're not in great shape either."

Looking ahead, cattlemen know that weather conditions this summer determine how they will feed their cattle this winter. University of Georgia animal scientists recommend farmers take an inventory now and plan ahead for the winter months.

"The first thing to remember is not to panic because you have time to prepare for the winter," says Mark McCann, an animal scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Next, cattlemen need to inventory their feed sources and determine what they have versus what they will need this winter." McCann says cows normally eat from 20 to 25 pounds of hay per day.

He also suggests cattlemen look into alternative feed sources. "Crop residues, such as wheat and rye straw, can be used as cattle feed sources," said McCann. "They aren't ideal for cows, but they will provide roughage."

But if crop conditions don't improve, McCann suggests cattlemen be prepared to take action, before winter arrives. "Take a head count and then count your hay supply," says McCann. "Once you have that figure, sell the cattle you know you won't be able to feed."

But which ones should be sold first? "If a cow isn't pregnant, sell her because she's not offering revenue and she's occupying space needed for productive members of the herd," said McCann.

James Ruark has already applied McCann's advice. "I sold a load this morning and shipped them to a feedlot," he said. "Maybe the weather will turnaround and help us. I hope it does."

The animal scientist says Georgia's hay crop is actually ahead of schedule due to the lack of rain. "Hay cutting is ahead this season because of the dry weather, but the tonage of hay is down," said McCann. "The nice thing to always remember is, pastures and day crops can rebound very quickly. We just have to keep our fingers crossed and pray for rain."

(Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA.)

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.