Extension counsels farmers on enduring drought

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Fresh ideas Democrat Photo/Jared Lankford Tim Schnakenberg, an agronomy specialist with University of Missouri Extension, points out new grazing ideas to farmers during a drought tour at Forrest Family Farms in Pleasant Ridge.

Over 250 area farmers converged on Forest Family Farms last Tuesday as University of Missouri extension agents and agronomists discussed and answered questions about surviving the current drought, which has plagued southwest Missouri for two years.

"We are currently in the third worst drought on record," said Tim Schnakenberg, an agronomy specialist with University of Missouri Extension based in Galena. "From May through July we endured the hottest temperatures and received the lowest amount of moisture since 1936."

Livestock specialist Eldon Cole presented a 25-point checklist of ideas on how farmers could survive this rough patch.

Cole highlighted that farmers should take inventory of exactly how much hay they have. He stated that beef producers often over estimate the amount of available tonnage for their herds.

Other points Cole stressed included:

* Speaking with your lender about how much financial risk you can handle.

* Purchasing forage by weight and not by looks.

* Evaluating how you feed hay and try to eliminate waste.

* Culling cows cautiously because the cost to replace them in the future will be significantly higher.

* Consider buying cattle if you can stand the risk.

* Calculate cost per head, per day.

"We want farmers to be able to feed their heard for less than $2 per head per day," said Cole. "Not many farmer think they can do that, but I believe they can."

Farmers were presented with the idea of turning to other forage crops as a way to keep roughage in front of their herds.

Schnakenburg encouraged farmers to think about short-term solutions regarding pasture loss.

"Oats, cereal rye, wheat and turnips should be considered as a viable option if your fescue stand has died out," said Schnakenburg. "Farmers should employ strip grazing methods in order to get the most out of their fields."

Those in attendance toured a field on the Forest Farm where these methods were already being practiced. Farmers were also encouraged to get their hay bale tested for nutrient content.

Another major concern for farmers was nitrate toxicity in drought stressed forages such as Johnson grass, sorghum-sudan and millet. Drought causes the plants to retain more nitrates.

Nitrate in itself is not toxic to animals, but at elevated levels it causes a disease called nitrate poisoning.

Nitrates are normally found in forages and are converted by the digestion process to nitrite, and in turn the nitrite is converted to ammonia.

The ammonia is then converted to protein by bacteria in the rumen. If cattle rapidly ingest large quantities of plants that contain high levels of nitrate, nitrite will accumulate in the rumen. Nitrite is ten times as toxic to cattle as nitrate.

"We usually keep our best cows on the farm over the fall and winter months," said Cole. "Farmers could get hurt by the number of aborted calves due to the toxicity. Then the devastation of this years drought carries into our next crop."

Farmers were encouraged to core hay bales and take stock of grass and have them tested to ensure that nitrate levels were low enough for cattle consumption.

Both Cole and Schnakenburg remained upbeat during their presentation and stressed that there are better days ahead for the beef producer, once the rain returns.

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