Faced with hay shortage, Missouri farmers consider lower-quality feeds

Thursday, August 23, 2012 | 7:42 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — To help farmers find alternatives to hay, new forage types have been added to the MU Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board's Hay Market Listing website.

This summer's drought has led Missouri to be about 2.5 million tons short of hay, said Joe Horner, an MU Extension economist. With cattle farmers desperate for feed and expectations of no fall grass for the animals to eat, he expects Missouri could be 3 to 4 million tons short by the end of the year.

In recent years, Missouri has produced an average of 8 million tons of hay, Horner said.

Due to high demand and low supply, even with forage being offered on Hay Listing from other states, Horner thinks prices are roughly three times what they have been in the past.

"The food isn't cheap, but it's what is available," he said.

The new listings now include several types of feed farmers give to livestock that are not generally offered, such as soybean balage, corn stalk, Conservation Reserve Program hay and rice hay, Horner said.

"There's not a lot of forage from last year's drought," he said. "We are having to make do with food that is not optimal for the animals."

Corn stalk, grass from land set aside under the federal Conservation Reserve Program and plant parts left over from harvest are being gathered for feed because of the drought. Horner said the forage is not optimal because it is low in energy and high in fiber.

Brian Lease, owner of Central Missouri Feed and Supply, spent Wednesday harvesting grasses from Conservation Reserve Program land. He has to pay $14 per acre and $15 per bale to the landowner for what he called "poor quality feed and a lot of weeds."  

Lease said he will have to add protein so the grass will have adequate nutrition for the cattle. The protein will come from corn gluten pellets that sell for $245 per ton and are  good for three months. The pellets will cost $330 per ton when he has to buy more in October, Lease said, compared to the $130 per ton he paid two years ago.

He has also bought alfalfa hay this year for $245 per ton.

In addition to these costs, Lease has to pay for the fuel and equipment maintenance to harvest the grasses.

"The fields are rough," he said. "My back is killing me. It was hard on the equipment, but you gotta do what you gotta do."

Lease said he looked at the Hay Listing, but thinks he might have enough feed for now.

Farmers who do purchase forage will have to work further to make the feed easier for animals to digest.

The process is called ammoniation.  The process involves adding anhydrous ammonia to 3 percent of dry matter, Justin Sexten, an MU Extension beef nutritionist said.

"Ammoniation helps break down the cell walls making the forage more digestible, and doubles the crude protein of the forage," Sexten said.  The process is only suitable for poor quality forages such as corn stalks, wheat straw and Conservation Reserve Program hay, he said.

This process will cost farmers about $25 per ton.

One-time demonstration classes will be offered by MU Extension and the Missouri Corn Growers Association throughout the state including one on Sept. 20 at the MU Beef Research and Teaching Farm.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Michael Williams August 23, 2012 | 10:31 p.m.

Didn't we have a recent hissy fit about ammoniation of meat? Sumpin' about "pink slime"?

One of the big problems is nitrates in these forages. Under drought/hot conditions, some grasses (including corn stalks) accumulate high nitrates which are toxic to foragers.

I sure wish I had 640 acres of irrigated alfalfa right now. Capitalism-R-Us.

(Report Comment)
Gail Walton August 24, 2012 | 1:22 p.m.

Is Little Bluestem grass good for horses? It's still green, a warm season grass that's drought tolerant.

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