AUBURN, Ala. – Alabama is suffering the worst drought conditions the state has seen since 2006. Some areas need as much as 15 inches to break the drought. Livestock producers are facing tough decisions about how to manage their herds. Not only is watering their herds an issue, but now feeding the herd is becoming an issue as well.
Ken Kelley, an Alabama Extension farm and agribusiness management regional agent, said that many producers are looking for the best options for their operations.
“The cattle industry in Alabama is facing a serious situation with drought conditions in the state,” said Kelley. “The drought, along with the lowest cattle prices since 2010, has left producers wondering what the best options for their operation might be.”
“While there is no single right or wrong answer, there are some strategies that producers can consider as they plan how to battle these conditions.”
Feeding During the Drought
Kelley reminds producers of the saying that you cannot feed your way out of a drought. Buying feed can get expensive. You can easily spend more than you would ever be able to recover. In some cases, producers might want to consider selling part of a herd (cows, calves, animals that are not easy keeping) instead of investing large amounts of money in feed. This drought hits at a time when prices have already declined sharply, and that adds another component to the equations that producers have to consider. Producers should consider that the cattle cycle is in the downturn.
Kelley says this means prospective prices and returns are considerably lower than they have been the last 4 years.
“Producers need to determine how much capital they are willing to spend to keep the herd intact,” said Kelley. “Biting the bullet now by selling some cows will keep you from spending money feeding the poorer cows in the herd.” Producers should refer to Alabama Extension’s Drought Sales of Livestock for information on taxes involved with selling livestock during a drought.
Producers should consider moving their cows to a “sacrificial pasture” to be fed. This practice allows other pastures to rest. This will lower costs for feed hauling and the time spent driving to different pastures. If producers rent pastures, they should inform their landlord about plans to let pastures rest.
Closely Examine Feed Alternatives
Producers may be able to feed less expensive alternatives. Kelley says that corn, wheat and soybean prices are the lowest they have been in a decade. Producers might be able to feed these to a herd in addition to feeding hay, to provide extra nutrients.
There are other feeds available, such as baled cottonseed hulls, gin trash, cotton mote and peanut hulls. A larger operation might consider purchasing a tub grinder or other feed mixer equipment that will allow them to deliver feed to the herd at an economic benefit compared to just hay.
For more in-depth information on how the drought can affect cattle, read Kelley’s fact sheet at www.aces.edu/go/687. Visit Alabama Extension’s Coping with Drought website at www.aces.edu/drought for more information.