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Hay shortages mean high costs for Oklahoma ranchers when winter comes < Oklahoma

This year’s severe drought has left crops such as wheat and corn withered and grazing livestock dried up. Ranchers across the state are now looking for ways to feed their livestock through the winter as hay supplies dwindle.

Despite the recent temperature drop and several Oklahoma counties already receiving snowfall This month, farmers and ranchers are feeling the effects of drought.

In late fall, ranchers typically feed their livestock hay that they have covered all year to feed their cows through the winter.

But because of the severe drought that year, crops such as wheat and corn withered and grazing cattle dried up. The extremely hot and dry conditions caused heat stress in cattle herds and dried up ranchers’ water ponds, a critical drinking point for cattle.

“Everyone might have had a bit of hay to harvest, but it was a drastically lower yield compared to what they feed their livestock in the winter,” said Dr. David Lalman, a beef specialist for the Oklahoma State Extension University.

Even if they stocked up on some hay, some ranchers have been feeding their cattle with their winter hay supplies since July. The lack of fodder for cows forced some ranchers to make difficult decisions.

“A lot of ranchers started selling off some of their cow and calf inventory because they just didn’t have feed for those cattle or stand feed for those cattle,” Lalman said.

The cost of hay has skyrocketed this year. Brady Womack, market news reporter for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, said factors like drought, fertilizer costs, transportation costs and labor are all reflected in today’s prices.

Compared to last November, Womack said the cost of a bale of alfalfa hay in Oklahoma this year is up 55%, and the price of a bale of grass hay is up 88%.

“Hay supplies are getting low and we haven’t even hit winter yet,” Womack said. “That means demand [for hay] will get higher and so the price will keep going up.”

To meet demand, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a 30-day executive order in early October to temporarily suspend regulations on vehicles transporting hay bales into the state. Stitt’s arrangement expanded the width limit on commercial hayloads to make it easier to bring more loads into the state.

As colder weather approaches, Lalman said, it’s important that ranchers have a winter plan in place, such as wintering. B. Limiting their herd of cows to a number that they can support with the available forage. He adds that there are various alternative feed options for cattle, but it’s important for ranchers to keep an eye on the nutritional value of their feed.

“The consumer wants to know that the cattle are happy, healthy and productive,” Lalman said. “It’s important to get through these next few months and make sure that happens because it will be a better quality product for the consumer.”

Lalman and OSU Extension shared other factors ranchers should consider when purchasing hay:

  • How much does the hay bale weigh? Request hay prices by tonnage or weight, not per bale.
  • How much protein does the hay bale have? It is important to do a forage analysis of the hay before you buy it.
  • When was the hay baled? Older hay can spoil more.
  • Where was the hay bale originally located? Hay cannot be removed from fire ant-endemic areas without measures being taken to ensure that fire ants are not transported to areas designated as fire ant-free.
  • Where was the hay bale stored? In a barn or outside? On the floor or on pallets?
  • How was the hay bale packed? Net wrapped bales stay together better than twine wrapped bales.

As low hay yields and high feed prices prompted farmers to sell large parts of their herds of cattle, the supply of beef to consumers could continue to become scarce in the future. That means higher meat prices.
“A lower calf harvest means fewer animals will be harvested for beef production over the next year or two,” Lalman said. “So that’s going to lead to higher prices, and that’s how the drought is going to affect the consumer over the long term.”

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating using the link at the top of this webpage.

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