Desperate times call for desperate measures. Farmers in Texas and other areas experiencing drought are in dire need of hay supplies and dryland crops are burning up. Because of this, some grain farmers are abandoning their grain crops and baling them for cattle feed instead.
“It wasn’t going to make grain—we decided this was the best way,” says Stanton Koehn, a corn and soybean farmer from Mexey, Texas. “In our area we aren’t set up to feed actual silage, but guys are familiar with haylage, so we went that way to get rid of it a little easier.”
He says its been two weeks since their last rain—a small ¾” that dried up quickly in 100-plus degree weather. Dryland corn and soybeans are struggling to produce ears and pods, but still maintain feed value.
“This is helping us recoup those losses,” Koehn says. “Considering there wasn’t going to be a decent yield and hay is short, the feed value on this is really good.”
Not without some drawbacks, though. Cattle might not find corn stalks quite as palatable, so he suggests mixing with other, even low quality, hay. Soybean haylage, however, is comparable to alfalfa, with slightly tougher stalks. Soybeans are the more popular crop to bale in his area, Koehn explains.
“One note on corn, if you can chop it for silage that really is the best way, but if cow producers are used to feeding round hay this [baling corn] is an option,” he says. “But you need a silage baler. It’s hard for a regular baler to get the green stems.”
Nine of 10 of the top cow-calf states are under serious drought conditions. In addition, the May USDA Crop Production report showed 36.8% lower hay stocks than a year ago on May 1. Twenty-five states saw year-over-year declines in hay stocks of 30% or more.
“I’ve been at Mizzou for 30 years, and this is the worst of what I’ll call a shortage of forage,” said Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist. “Not just hay but pastures as well.”
In a recent university report, Roberts suggests weeds such as crabgrass, foxtail, barnyard grass and goose grass might even prove valuable as a forage to bale in emergency conditions.
“Weeds aren’t great,” Roberts said. “But this year, take what Mother Nature gives. However, avoid baling poisonous or thorny weeds.”