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Now is the Time to Reflect, and Plan

By Chris Penrose
 
At times I wonder what is worse; a drought like we had in 2012 or 1988, or a wet year like we had this year? As a beef and forage producer, I guess I would rather have a year like this one but it has and still is providing challenges. In 2012, hay and pasture was short but the panic set in when I started to run out of water. We have had plenty of pasture and water this year but making hay was a real challenge. I was able to get some up in May but I still had some first cutting that I did not get in until July.
 
This is where reflecting and planning can meet. What are the needs of our cattle right now and what type of hay should we feed first? For me, the first hay I fed to my cows was some late cut hay that got rained on. The calves have been weaned and there was still some pasture that could be grazed. Feeding higher quality hay, especially that protected from the elements, can be fed closer to calving.
 
Do you still have some hay fields that may not have had a last cutting that can be grazed or pastures that still have grass? For many situations, now is a great time to graze them. From observations over the years, if you still have some orchardgrass fields, graze them before the end of the year. Orchardgrass does not hold up as well as fescue which can be grazed throughout the winter and will maintain quality better. If you plan on grazing hayfields, be aware of potential soil damage from cattle and act accordingly as the ground is very moist and susceptible to “pugging” from cattle hooves.
 
Another issue that has been developing for me over the past twenty years is the increased damage from deer on stockpiled grass. I try to keep a stockpiled field to graze in March when cows calve, but each year there is less and less due to deer pressure. December through February, it is some of the best forage around and the deer love it, but by March, there is less for cattle to graze.
 
I will keep doing this as it will still allow me to have a “clean” area to calve on but if that was not the case, I may consider grazing stockpiled grass before the wildlife and weather takes its toll. I have recommended planting annual grasses like cereal rye as a winter feed in the past and still do, but one needs to consider how much deer pressure there may be (which is why I recommend cereal rye for deer plots). I have seen entire fields of cereal rye completely grazed by deer.
 
If the ground freezes or dries out some, do you have the ability to take out enough hay to last for an extended period? Can you put some electric fence up and keep cattle away until needed then just move the bale rings? Are you better off to keep feeding hay in the same place and really tear up that area, or keep feeding in different spots and tear up those areas a little less? If the wet weather continues, it may not make a difference. Do you have some small square bales you can feed when it is wet and muddy and feed with a utility vehicle verses rutting up the field with a big tractor?
 
I am hoping at some point to put in a heavy use feed pad. I have seen several cattle producers put them in and most have had success with this type of winter feeding system. Our friends at the local SWCD should be able to help with plans.
 
Is there anything we can still do for this year that will benefit our beef cattle operation into the future? This is where we need to check finances and our inventory since we still have time to affect our bottom line for 2018. Is there any equipment that needs to be purchased or replaced? I am starting to see more beef producers purchase bale wrappers and make baleage with success. If we have the opportunity to take a day or two off the curing process when making hay – especially in the spring – by wrapping bales, we greatly improve the odds of harvesting quality hay and getting up additional cuttings.
 
Tax laws are favorable for depreciating equipment again this year and there may be some great deals purchasing now versus next spring or summer. Can you prepay for some inputs this year such as fertilizer or seed? Are there some unproductive animals that may be sold to generate additional income if needed?
 
These are just a few of the things we can consider as we reflect on 2018, and plan for 2019.