Livestock feed scarce, farmers losing money

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At right, Russell Black of Wilton stands in a hay wagon where square bales are being loaded. The lack of rain this summer has reduced yields but made haying easier. File photo

REGION — Livestock producers will be feeling the effects of this summer’s drought for months to come. The lack of rain has meant lower yields of animal feeds and much, much more.

During telephone interviews this week, all producers said yields from feed crops are lower and farm income is off due to not selling hay or lowered milk production. On some farms, the nutritional quality of recently harvested hay is poorer and water for animals has become an issue. All farms are using winter feed already, which could result in a shortage next spring.

“I’m hauling water to animals pastured at McCleery’s. Two watering holes there have dried up,” Henry Hardy, a  Farmington dairy farmer said. The McCleery farm is located off US Routes 2 and 4 in Farmington.

“I’ve found a hay source, but it’s very expensive,” New Vineyard dairy farmer Randall Bates said.

“Production is down and nutritional value way down,” Wilton beef producer Russell Black said.

“Haying has been horrible. I’m feeding baleage already,” New Vineyard beef and draft horse farmer Frank Forster said. “The first cut was about average but the second cut hasn’t been cut yet. It’s not growing, there’s nothing there.”

Baleage is forage processed with a higher moisture content than traditional ‘dry’ hay and then wrapped in plastic. This method decreases the amount of time needed between cutting the crop and harvesting it. It reduces the risk of the crop being rained on, which means additional work to process the crop and results in reduced nutritional value of the finished product.

The lack of rain this summer is impacting hay production for area farmers. Many farmers today make large round bales, such as is seen here, because it saves time and labor. File photo

“Our pastures have stopped producing, we’re pumping water from the farm pond into tubs,” Josh Tracy said.

A grandson of John Donald, Tracy and his cousin Frank Donald, Jr. are operating the elder Donald’s dairy farm in New Sharon. The water level in the pond has dropped, Tracy said.

“One day of rain won’t make up for the lack,” Tracy said of the rain predicted for Wednesday, Sept. 30.

For now, the Donald farm is still selling some hay to friends of the family. The farm should have enough hay for its animals, depending on how long winter lasts, Tracy said.

The lack of rain has definitely affected production and feed is no longer being sold, Hardy said.

“I usually sell at least 100 bales of baleage which equals $4,500,” he said. “I usually sell two round bales a week to one customer. That’s another $100 per week lost.”

The yield is not there this year leading Hardy to buy some hay, something he doesn’t normally do. He has also been feeding winter hay for at least two weeks.

“I’ll be cutting back, selling some marginal cows this fall,” Hardy said. “By shutting off my hay customers, I shouldn’t have to buy more hay.”

Grass is about 6 inches tall in Hardy’s fields. He’s hoping to get a third crop if there is enough of the predicted rain.

“It will be a lot of chasing to get a little bit more,” he said.

At Silver Valley Farm in New Sharon, Richard Davis said nobody’s corn or hay crop fared well. Winter feed is being fed and no extra animals will be kept this winter, he added.

“There’s no pasture, they’ve all dried up. Feeding hay, baleage doesn’t give the milk yields grass does,” Davis said.

“Usually if we get rain, we have plenty of feed,” Bates said. “We normally put up 1,100 to 1,200 large round bales and 500 ‘square’ bales. This year we did 800 round and 400 square.

“If we don’t have enough feed, can’t find more, selling animals will be a last resort.”

Water hasn’t been an issue yet although it’s happened before, Bates said. The farm relies on a series of farm ponds and also uses well water, he added.

First crop was down 25% for Black. Fields that got rain soon afterwards saw better second crop yields, he said.

“The last month, six weeks, it’s started going backwards,” Black said. “Sandy knolls have dried up and the grass has dried standing.

“This is probably the worst growing season I’ve ever seen. For haying, it’s been one of the best. I’m real concerned about the nutritional value of some feed. A dry beef cow doesn’t need the same nutrition as a milking dairy cow.”

Most of Black’s cows will calve in the spring which will help, he said.  Some of his cattle are pastured in Strong.

“The big spring in that pasture has never run dry. The brook is just a trickle,” he said. “The owner has put a float and hose out.”

Some promised hay has been sold but he could have sold much more, Black said.

“I’ll be culling the herd hard,” Black said.  “Selling all the freezer beef I can to get the numbers down.

“It could be a long, cold winter.”

 

 


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