As the worst drought on record has caused many livestock producers to have to choose between culling their herds or forking over significantly more money to feed their cattle, a pair of Ohio State University Extension experts said that producers may want to consider "outside-the-box" ideas to try to minimize the negative economic impact from the continued extreme weather.
The lack of substantial rainfall, extreme heat and dryness have left many producers short on hay and silage supplies, leaving many cattle farmers at a loss for how to best manage their feed rations, said John Grimes, beef coordinator for OSU Extension. But producers who are open to nontraditional ideas may be able to save money and save their herds, he said.
"This year has posed some significant challenges that increase the need to think of solutions that are more outside of the box than what farmers may do in a typical year," Grimes said. "I think the key for any operation is to get as much production as we can off of an acre, and just typical management that we've done over the year with hay production may not be enough.
"We may need to look at some different options."
As a result, many farmers are now turning to using silage as a large part of their plan for surviving the drought, said Stan Smith, an OSU Extension program assistant in agriculture and natural resources.
"Obviously this year the hay production has been down due to the drought and we've found the quality of the hay, quite frankly, isn't good as we've tested some of it," he said. "So as we get into fall, we're finding a lot of corn in fields that aren't going to yield a lot of grain, and they can be made into corn silage."
Smith said the drought has left farmers a "great opportunity" to gather up a lot of high-quality feed on not a whole lot of acres.
"While the concept of feeding brood cows feed made up of corn silage is not something that cattlemen may typically do, this year our hay crops and pastures have been devastated by drought, which has left many people scrambling thinking they have to find hay to feed their cows," he said. "But you can feed cows a minimal amount of hay and supplement it with the appropriate amount of corn silage."
Not only is that a viable option for livestock producers, but it can be a smart option for corn growers who are looking at yields in the 50-bushel range, Smith said.
"For a guy who typically sells his corn, (such low yields) means he won't have much income this year," he said. "Yields are worse even than what we anticipated.
"But if growers are proactive, they may be able to harvest the field as silage instead of grain because many of these fields won't have a lot of value as grain. Growers can get more value from their harvest from corn silage and then can find a way to adapt to feed it to cattle."
Growers who haven't done a lot of corn silage in the past or don't have a silo, can still take advantage of the option by using the bagging system for fermenting corn silage, Smith said. The bagging system, where feed is forced into the bag and sealed to allow the corn to ferment, can be put on any vacant area.
"We've known people that have stored this silage for as long as two years before they've fed it," he said.
Other options include considering annual forages such as oats and rye as an alternative, Grimes said.
"There's been a lot of work done by OSU Extension with oats and rye as annual forages we can plant to get supplemental feed for the winter months," he said. "And there's always the old standby practice of putting nitrogen on forages in late summer and early fall to get some extra grass growth going into the winter.
"Those are time-tested things we can do to add feed to any operation."