Livestock producers are anxiously awaiting the greening of pastures, even as extension experts council caution.
Producers may be reluctant to spend more money on feed, even if they can find it, but Manitoba Agriculture staff are warning against the temptation to put livestock out too early.
Why it matters: Producers may be more than fed up with buying feed, and there may be little to buy anyways, but Manitoba Agriculture is urging producers to be sure the pasture is ready before putting livestock out.
Ray Bittner, provincial livestock specialist in the Interlake, is still urging producers to hold back on turning cattle out until spring regrowth can support the animals or, if they are turning livestock out, to ensure that they are supplementing enough with grain or other feed.
Producers may have to look to pellets or grain to get that supplemented feed, he said, given the lack of hay on the market.
“Many years, there’s a little bit to eat left on pastures — some residue — but this year there’s very little to eat because the residue was eaten last fall,” Bittner said.
That may be a bitter pill for farmers who are already frustrated with tightened supplies or who are reluctant to look for more feed when there is little hay or straw on offer and producers may have already paid more than they would like.
Most producers “should know better,” than to turn cattle out too early, he noted, “but when it comes down to: they can’t afford it, they have to go blow more money, again, for the second or third time to try and get enough feed, it’s hard to do.”
Producers have already had a rough few months. Feed worries were top of mind going into winter last fall, after hay harvest fell to half its long-term average in places, while many herds were taken off pastures early due to dry weather deteriorating forage and water supplies.
Weeks of brutal cold in January and February did little to help the feed supply. Producers reportedly ate through their feed faster than expected. In late March, provincial extension staff worried producers were running low on feed, but were finding little for sale to bridge the gap. Experts like Bittner and Jane Thornton, another provincial livestock specialist in the southwest, warned that fertility and the next calf crop could be impacted if herds lost condition before breeding season this year.
At the time, Bittner suggested producers consider a “sacrificial pasture” if they have to turn out early. That land will not perform well for the rest of the year, he said, but, with supplemented grain, may help herds over a critical 10 days while other pastures grow.