Drought lingers, out-of-state hay required again
Some areas are making hay while the sun shines and the rains fall, but others just never had a chance, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension service specialist.
"We've had a better year than last year, but that isn't saying a lot," said Larry Redmon, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension state forage specialist in College Station. "We had great winter rains and some in spring, but then the rains shut off for the most part.
"There are some areas that have had 8 to 10 inches this summer, but it is not widespread."
Travis Miller, Ph.D., associate department head and AgriLife Extension program leader in the Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences department, said the state overall continues to face drought, with notable exceptions along the Gulf Coast and parts of East North Texas.
"While showers along the coast and in North Texas eased drought conditions and greened up hay meadows, conditions are worsening over most of the southern and western parts of the state, where livestock producers are continuing to supplement cattle with hay and feed and are struggling to maintain water supplies," Miller said.
He said at this time, nearly 90 percent of the state ranges from abnormally dry to exceptional drought.
Redmon said some producers have already made one hay cutting and are ready to make another. These producers have taken care of their grass, applied fertilizer and had timely rains, so they won't be buying hay, he said.
"But just down the road, there may be producers who didn't get the timely rains and the grass simply hasn't had a chance to recover from last year," he said. "So it really depends on the management level of the property and whether it has received rain as to whether an individual made hay or has to buy it."
Looking around the state, Redmon said, North Texas seems to get a rain "almost whenever it wants one." In Southeast Texas and the Houston and coast areas, good rains have fallen and producers are growing some hay. East Texas has had good rain in some spots and is in good shape.
But, up in the High Plains, it's been a tough year, he said. Same goes for Central Texas, West Texas and South Texas, where it has been spotty.
"Some of these areas look much like it was last year, so no matter how good of a manager you might have been, you just didn't get the rain to make the hay," Redmon said.
"I'm afraid as we get closer to autumn, we will see more and more of those big 18-wheelers rolling into the state, but not nearly to the extent we saw last year," he said. "There are people cutting hay, good hay and plenty of it, but they might not be nearly as interested in selling as they have in years past."
Redmon said there will be producers with hay to sell in the state, but it won't be anything near a "normal" year, and it won't be enough to supply hay needs across the state. "But it is much better than last year.
"As I drive across the state, I'm able to see hay bales sitting in the field. Last year, you could drive anywhere and not see bales of hay."
In addition to some areas not seeing the recovery of their grass, other areas have suffered through tremendous grasshopper infestations this year that have been just like a heavy grazing by cattle, he said.
"It has been a really tough year for areas of the state."
Redmon categorized hay into three categories: high-quality alfalfa hay, grass hays that can range in quality and then the lower quality stalk or straw hay.
Alfalfa hay is used primarily by the dairy and horse industry, he said. However, a lot of the lower quality alfalfa hay, the early cuts, does not go to either of those markets.
"This could be a good buy for the beef market, using it instead of the 20 percent crude protein cubes," Redmon said. "It is much less costly than buying the cubes. These square bales will come from Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico, primarily."
At the opposite end of the spectrum is straw or stalk hays from wheat, rice, sorghum or corn. This hay is lower in cost, but also lower in nutritive value, he said.
"This can be bought and used, but you need to know what you have so you can make up for the missing nutrients with the appropriate supplement," Redmon said. "This is sort of the hay of the last resort."
In the middle are the typical grass hays: prairie hay from South Dakota or Nebraska or the Bermuda or Bahia hays. The quality will depend on the stage of maturity when it was cut, and it can be just as low in value as the wheat straw or as good as alfalfa, he said.
"Forage testing is absolutely necessary for a producer purchasing hay," Redmon said. "If you don't test, you may think it is better than it is, and that can cause your cattle to crash in the middle of the winter. Or, you may think it is a lower value than it really is and cause you to buy extra supplement when you don't need to be spending that money."