If the dry weather Ozarks farmers have put up with since July 1999 keeps up in the summer of 2000, it could show who the best forage and livestock managers are, says a University of Missouri Outreach and Extension livestock specialist.

"Everyone is hoping the dry-weather trend will go away, but just in case it doesn't, there are a few things producers can do to make the best of a bad situation," said Eldon Cole.

They may not be able to use all of his suggestions, but each one can help, he says. Such as focusing on forage production from fescue, instead of seed production.

"If fescue seed is harvested, plan to ammoniate the stubble hay to enhance its feeding value. And consider planting a summer annual crop, such as sudan or millet." Cole said.

More advice:

"Cull some cows. Culling should be an ongoing process, but some people get two and three years behind on this practice. Cow and feeder-calf prices are too favorable to not take advantage of and sell old cows and open cows that should have left the place sooner," he said.

Another strategy is to wean calves early, Cole says. This allows farmers to "rough" the cows on lower-quality, less-abundant pastures.

"After they are four or five months old, the calves will do very nicely without momma, but they will need a good concentrate ration and a limited amount of good-quality forage," he said, about 0.5% of body weight.

Also, supplement energy feed. "The cost-against-return values are very favorable this year, which may entice farmers to creep feed or hand feed some supplement to nursing calves," he said.

And Cole said to buy hay early--and make sure it is quality hay, not junk hay.

Another tactic: rotate pastures. "It always pays, but it is especially helpful in dry times," he said.

Renting some pasture is not a bad idea, either.

"Rented pastures often are more economical than buying hay or concentrates. Available pastures are getting scarce, but keep looking," Cole said.

"And manage. All aspects of the beef-forage operation need to be evaluated. Money spent for insect and disease control, and for growth promotants and ionophores should give nice returns this year," he said.

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