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Slow-growing pasture means feed questions for producers

Pastures are slow growing this spring and last year’s feed surplus is starting to dwindle

Gord Adams of Deloraine has a feed problem, and he’s not the only one.

The beef producer is among many Manitoba farmers reaching the limit of their feed supplies while pastures remain unable to fully support herds given poor regrowth.

“We’re pretty much out of hay here now and we’ve been kind of trying to hold off as long as we can to go to pasture because the grass just ain’t growing,” he said. “Most guys that I talk to, they’re down to their last little bit of hay or feed or whatever.”

Adams said pastures were particularly struggling where they were grazed late last year. Dry conditions last summer had producers pushing their pastures or moving cattle off early.

Pam Iwanchysko, Manitoba Agriculture livestock specialist in Dauphin, said there were similar issues in her region.

She noted livestock turned out on pastures unlikely to have enough regrowth to sustain them through the season, she said, while other farmers are trying to top off hay until pastures recover. Some farmers are already looking to source hay for next winter, she added.

By some reports, however, there is less and less hay to sell.

“I’m thinking that cattle guys with carry-over are going to hang on to it,” Iwanchysko said. “It’s very unlikely that they’re going to be selling it anyway, just based on what their own personal needs may be for the upcoming winter season.”

Slow regrowth should be no surprise for anyone in the livestock sector. Manitoba Beef Producers warned members of premature turnout back in April, with general manager Brian Lemon noting that cold temperatures and lack of precipitation had made for lacklustre pasture growth and stressed that ranchers risked damaging their fields if paddocks weren’t growing heartily before cattle arrived.

At the same time, Manitoba Agriculture forage specialist Jane Thornton was concerned with the cold, slow start to the season. Experts stressed that farmers should be supplementing cattle if they had to put them in the field at the time.

Until last week, there had been little improvement. The province saw little to no rain until the second last week of May, when a series of storms brought patches of relief.

In the southwest, where Adams farms, provincial soil moisture maps noted a swath of increasingly “dry” or “very dry” land through the first part of this month, a pattern that echoed similar swaths in the northwest around Swan River, northern Interlake and the eastern corner of agricultural Manitoba.

Ken Harms, who exports hay from his farm near Snowflake, has seen a distinct jump in business, starting last year when drought-stricken producers in both Saskatchewan and the U.S. were clamouring for feed.

“Definitely there has been an uptick for beef quality, specifically, but also for horse hay and dairy hay,” he said.

The poor pastures this spring, however, have also bumped the number of local producers looking for bales from Harms.

“There’s not a lot of carry-over in Manitoba and a couple of producers, including myself, are down on their acres,” he said. “Surpluses have just gone.”

He added that he hopes to see more local hay in the future to help meet demand.

Larry Kooistra, of Kooistra Hay Sales near Swan River, echoed the story, although his business caters mainly to horse hay.

“I have people already booking for the fall, just being afraid that they’re not going to get much this year, but I think I’m kind of in the same boat,” he said.

Hay lands have been equally slow to regrow this spring, while some areas have also noted winterkill.

Pastures and hay lands may start to jump where rain fell last week.

Roblin measured almost 58 millimetres of rain during May, according to Environment Canada, while Swan River, previously one of the driest areas in the province, got 38 millimetres of rain in the second last week of May. Parts of the Red River Valley, Pembina Valley, and Interlake also saw soaking rains.

Those rains brought little relief for other parts of western Manitoba. Deloraine saw only six millimetres between April 15 and May 27, according to Manitoba Agriculture data, while Environment Canada puts total May rainfall in Melita at 10.7 millimetres as of May 28.

Areas of Manitoba were also expecting rainfall later in the week as of May 28.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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