Greg Lardy: Planning winter feeding during drought’ |

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Greg Lardy: Planning winter feeding during drought’

Given the value of cattle today relative to feed and transportation costs, some short-term management solutions (e.g. supplemental feeding, renting pasture in other parts of the country, drylotting cows, early weaning, creep feeding) may be viable in some years but not others. Staff photo

With dry conditions persisting in much of the Dakotas and eastern Montana over the past few months, many livestock producers are starting to think about options for winter feeding programs. Now is a good time to start the planning process, and begin evaluating your options. In this week's column, I will present options to consider as you develop plans for feeding during and post-drought.

Shipping cows out of the area. Shipping cows to an area with more plentiful feed resources is one option to consider. Some factors to evaluate in your decision-making and planning process include the following:

• Estimated feed or grazing costs

• Reputation and trustworthiness of your potential business partners

• Trucking costs

• Timing (when will you ship them and when will they return to your ranch)

• Potential biosecurity issues

Buying hay. Many people have already begun looking for hay for the winter feeding period. The hay crop appears to be short in a widespread region across much of the Dakotas and easternmost Montana. This is already driving up prices and causing localized shortages. Here are some things to consider:

• Hay quality (get a feed analysis so you know what you are buying)

• Transportation costs

• Make sure you are purchasing hay free of any noxious weeds (no need to buy additional problems that you will deal with for years to come!)

• Can you get the operating line needed or cash flow the purchases?

• NDSU offers a free service to match people looking to buy hay and other feedstuffs with people selling these products. You can access this information at

Putting up hay in other areas. In some cases, you may have opportunities to put up grass, alfalfa, or cereal grain hay in other regions not as severely impacted by drought conditions. Some things to consider in these arrangements include the following:

• Business arrangements. Are you paying per acre, per bale, per ton, etc.?

• Distance from your home ranch. This affects the transportation costs of your finished product and the cost of moving people and equipment to and from the location where you are putting up hay.

• Hay quality. How timely can you get it put up? Will it provide the nutrients you need for your livestock?

• Potential noxious weed problems

• Can you get the operating line needed or cash flow the purchases?

• If you are putting up drought damaged cereal grains, be sure you consider the potential for nitrate toxicity.

Buying alternative feeds and byproducts. Many different byproducts and alternative feeds are available in the region. Most of these will make effective supplements and main dietary ingredients. Factors to consider prior to purchasing include:

• What nutrient(s) are you most in need of supplying in the ration? (Protein, energy)

• What is the cost of the byproduct or alternative feed delivered to your ranch?

• What is the expected shrink or storage loss on the product?

• Do you have the means to store the product?

• Can you get the operating line needed or cash flow the purchases?

• Do you have the equipment needed to mix and deliver the product?

Planting emergency forages. In some cases, you may be able to plant a summer annual, and produce a hay crop. Options include forages such as Sudan grass or forage millets. Items to be aware of or consider include the following:

• Expected yield (take into account forage type, planting date, fertilizer costs, etc.)

• Cost of seed, land preparation, planting, etc.

• Do you have enough time left in the growing season to salvage a forage crop if planted late?

• Potential for cyanide or nitrate issues with these forages

Many options exist for determining fall and winter feeding strategies when you are in a drought situation. In order to determine the most cost effective solution, be sure you take into account the expected expenses and potential revenue from each strategy. Many options require you to provide significant detail to your lender so be sure to get a good cost estimate on paper before you make that appointment. Time will be one of your most important allies in this process. Begin planning now to take advantage of a longer planning horizon.