Rain kept farmers from planting corn and soybeans for several weeks, but the relatively unprecedented precipitation this spring had another significant consequence: pasture and forage stress.
Pastures and forage crops across the Eastern Corn Belt suffered yield and nutrient loss, leaving farmers to revisit their plans for feeding livestock.
"The wet spring was really tough on pastures," said John Grimes, Ohio State University Extension beef coordinator. "I feel it every time I go out to check cows."
Grimes said he thinks there could be some long-term forage and pasture issues, including stand loss, and some short-term issues such as rough conditions for animals, equipment and farmers.
The amount of rainfall on pastures created what he calls "uncharted territory" for livestock producers. Recommendations for how to deal with stressed ground include tillage work, interseeding other crops and intensive grazing management strategies.
"We've all got spots we're not particularly proud of," Grimes said of waterlogged fields. "But I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all policy here."
Instead, he recommended producers carefully evaluate the impact of the weather on each pasture and consider potential management practices from both a short- and long-term view.
In the short run, strategies might include intensive rotational grazing, keeping cows congregated away from particularly wet or stressed fields and stockpiling forages in the fields this fall.
Longer term, farmers should consider interseeding additional crops like rye or oats to supplement pastures and poor-quality hay made this season.
"If producers have a fall-calving herd, for example, I'd absolutely get oats out because that's a high-quality feed they can use while the new calves are on the ground," Grimes said. "On the other hand, producers might sow rye for a spring-calving herd."
Aside from damage done to pasture stands, livestock producers should recognize the deficiencies of the 2011 first-cutting hay crop. Grimes said a common-sense analysis of the later-made hay dictates a much lower-quality product this year than normal.
In fact, some producers are still trying to get first-cutting hay out of the field. These forages will typically have much higher fiber and much lower nutrient content than under ideal growing and harvesting conditions.
To adequately assess the nutritive quality of the crop, Grimes recommends getting a quality analysis done on the forage to plan accordingly for feeding this fall and winter.
"Producers have to weigh their individual situations," he said. "But it's further complicated by high-priced corn. In the past we could substitute cheap corn for poor hay.
With corn prices significantly higher than historic averages, farmers should use every tool available to plan appropriate nutrition strategies to maintain profitability. A forage quality analysis is an important tool in that process, according to Grimes.
"Get an analysis pulled to make nutrition plans based on value of the hay," he said. "If you have ground that's chewed up and needs renovated, or a wheat field you can interseed to oats or rye, take advantage of those opportunities."