Manitoba livestock producers are bracing for a double hit.
They’re facing their second extended feeding season at the same time as forage yields have fallen short. Extension staff are predicting feed shortages in some regions.
Herds were already late coming onto pasture this spring after conditions slowed regrowth. Now, herds in Manitoba’s driest areas may already be on supplemented feed or are being removed from pastures outright as continuing heat and dry weather have shortened the normal grazing season.
“Bale every bulrush, every reed, everything that could be used as a feed stock, because there will be a market for it,” Ray Bittner, Manitoba Agriculture livestock specialist in the Interlake, said.
His region is among the driest in the province this year. The overwhelming majority of the Interlake was in moderate to severe drought as of August 10, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s drought monitor.
Second cut is “close to non-existent” in the northern Interlake and first-cut yields were “very limited,” Bittner said. At the same time, pastures in the region are running out of both forage and water.
Straw, likewise, is expected to be short due to drought-shortened cereal crops.
Manitoba Agriculture has noted producers turning to greenfeed and silage to offset short feed. Bittner also expects producers to use grain supplement.
“The thing we’re worried about and we hope doesn’t happen is people sell off a bunch of good cows because there’s a good chance the market will be flooded for bred cows,” he said.
Pam Iwanchysko, another provincial livestock specialist out of Dauphin, says that cull is already a possibility on her side of Lake Manitoba.
Producers in dry areas should already be thinking about supplementing or removing livestock if they haven’t already, she added.
“They won’t see it now, but they will see it in the spring with open cows or poor (performing) cows,” she said. “The poor nutrition now is going to reflect in a couple of months down the line.”
Forage yields ranged from half to three-quarters of normal in dry areas with little hope of a second cut, she said, although low water also opened up some previously unused land.
Producers in southwestern Manitoba say they are also expecting to lose their second cut.
“I don’t think we’re going to get any,” Gord Adams of Deloraine said. “I know there are some guys who are getting a little bit of second cut, but it’s not very good.”
The loss comes after an already disappointing first cut, from which Adams estimates he got about half his normal yield.
Adams pointed to what he hopes will be a lush corn silage crop and has not resorted to supplementing feed yet, something he credits to his rotational grazing plan. He has been able to keep the pace on his herd movements so far, he said, although some paddocks are seeing cattle for the second time this year and he may have to move them through more quickly.
“I think it’s going to hit some people hard, and it looks like hay prices are wanting to go up considerably,” provincial livestock specialist for the southwest, Jane Thornton, said.
Transportation will present another hurdle, she added, since producers short on feed may not find any for sale nearby.
“Guys are going to have to get creative and I also suggest that if they’re going to get creative, then they talk to a nutritionist on how to feed it so they don’t get into wrecks over the winter,” she said.
Thornton, for her part, encouraged producers to cull if feed supplies look short.
Feast or famine
Not all producers will be searching for feed.
Parts of western Manitoba have dodged drought woes. In The Pas, rainfall has topped 150 per cent of normal, according to Manitoba Agriculture, while the same wet trend spreads through Swan River, Russell and Dauphin.
“It’s spotty,” Iwanchysko said. “If you go from Pine River north, they are going to have adequate to above-average yields because they’ve been getting lots of moisture and, in fact, they’ve been getting so much moisture they can’t get onto their fields.”
Dry areas also have patches of better moisture.
Thunderstorms have brought most of the province’s rain this season, Thornton said, which might douse one farm while leaving the next property dry. In the southwest, she pointed out, Virden sits at normal moisture, while Brandon has only seen 58 per cent of average rainfall, according to Manitoba Agriculture data.
Kelly Kien of Glenella is one of those fortunate farmers.
“Everybody around us is dry,” he said. “We seem to have moisture — just the right amount. The hay crop’s not great, but the main pasture’s been getting good rains.”
Dwindling dugouts have added yet more concern. As of August 7, dugouts were a third full in eastern Manitoba, according to the provincial crop report. The same report cited half-full dugouts in southwestern Manitoba and dropping dugouts in the central region.
The Interlake, again, is the hardest hit, with reports of water being pumped and hauled and rising concerns over water quality.
“People are either going to run out of water or they’re going to run out of pasture or they’re going to run out of both if they’re in the dry areas,” Thornton said. “I’m seeing a lot of sloughs that normally have water in them that have no water, so that means dugouts are low. If you don’t have a watering system in that dugout, that means the cattle wade out into it and they make the rest of the water very muddy and they stir it up a lot. It might be moist, but it’s got so much mud in it that it’s not really good drinking water. People are really going to have to be careful and keep an eye on the situation.”
The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association is urging producers to plan ahead given feed supplies, while both the MFGA and the province have actively advertised available resources for affected farmers.