October 28, 2012

Feed in short supply

Peter Hagar

---- — It started out great. A warm spring with dry fields, no flooding or mud like the disastrous spring of 2011.

For the most part, the spring of 2012 was pretty nice. Clinton County was spared the late frost that devastated the tree fruit crops in western New York and the Armyworm invasion turned out to be more of a small maneuver. However, while we were spared the worst of the drought that affected much of New York and the country, local farmers will suffer some of the after effects.

Nationally, the USDA has reported that over 1 million acres have been affected by the drought with conditions in 22 states classified as extreme or exceptional. More than $27 million in aid has been distributed to farmers by the National Resource Conservation Services for implemented conservation improvements which will lead toward building drought resistance into their operations.

With the early spring, many farmers planted earlier than normal and had great expectations for an exceptional year. When the weather warmed up and the rains didn’t come, many farmers in the Midwest saw their corn and soybeans dry up and become stunted. Because the worst of the heat happened during pollination, the corn ears and soybean pods never fully pollinated and as a result, yields this fall were disappointing.

Even here in Clinton County, the later cuts of hay and some of the corn crop did suffer due to the lack of rain in much of July and August. Corn fields stayed in pretty good shape, but by late August some corn had dried down and farmers began to harvest for silage. For local farmers to be successful, they need to grow much of their own feed, whether it’s for a dairy farm, poultry operation or feeding livestock such as beef cows, sheep or goats.

If enough feed is not grown on the farm, it needs to be supplemented by purchasing grains to maintain the production and health of the animals. With this summer’s drought being much worse in the grain-growing regions of the Midwest, prices of corn and soybeans have skyrocketed.

For livestock farmers, a shortage of pasture and feed has the potential for disaster. Since feed is the largest expense on a livestock farm, the more days you need to feed stored crops the less profit will be realized at the end of the year. Being that sustainability is the new buzzword in farming, a farm that can’t make a profit will not be sustainable.

There are several ways to plan for maximizing your feed supply, but you need to start with knowing what will be required to keep your livestock happy, healthy and growing all winter long. First, you need an inventory of feed on hand. Knowing the number and size of the animals you intend to winter over, you can estimate your feed needs.

Different classes of livestock also have different nutritional requirements. Growing lambs or calves will need a much higher level of energy and protein to maintain optimal growth. July first-cut hay might be suitable for a dry beef cow but will not provide enough nutrition for a lactating mother or a growing calf. In determining feed needs, keep in mind the different needs of your animals.

Another way to stretch your feed supply is proper storage and feeding. If you could spend 30 percent less on feed for the winter, would you do it? Research has shown that round-bale hay stored outside without a cover has been shown to lose 25-35 percent of its feed value before it even gets fed. While storing hay in a barn is ideal, stacking and properly covering hay on a gravel pad, pallets or tires can reduce spoilage to 5 to 10 percent.

On Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m., the Cornell Cooperative Extension office will host a beef producers’ meeting called “Taking Stock of your Feed Situation.” Join us to see where you stand for feed supplies and needs for the winter months. Bring any numbers you have in regards to number of bales, types of feed, etc. See how your feed supplies match up to your needs. Find out about pasture/forage insurance, too. Register by calling 561-7450 or email The registration fee is $5.

Peter Hagar, agriculture educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Route 22, Suite 5, Plattsburgh, 12901. Phone 561-7450, fax 561-0183 or email