Tips for Dairy Producers to Prepare for Drought Conditions

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By: Cory Colburn, independent nutritionist for Genuine Livestock Nutrition Consulting

If you live in the Midwest, particularly Wisconsin or Minnesota, you know these regions are experiencing unusually dry weather. Not a drop from the sky during Memorial Day weekend is unheard of in these areas, yet it was the case this year. The rain showers that have occurred over the last 2 months seem to last only a few hours and are light and scattered, often hitting one location and not another only a few miles away. In my farm visits over the last few weeks, the concern of a drought year is significantly rising.

A look at current conditions

According to the Wisconsin State Climatology Office, this spring has been historically dry.1 With an average of 1.5 inches of rain across the state, it is the fourth driest spring on record. For those who were farming during the 80s, this causes a great deal of concern and stirs up negative memories from this stressful time for the agriculture industry. While things like burn bans are noticeable in the short term, corn height and color are now getting attention.

All of this leaves dairy producers wondering  what they can do now to protect themselves from high feed prices and shortages of farm-grown feed. Without enough rain, corn and soybeans are not the only crops that suffer. Because forages are a critical part of a dairy cow’s diet, their stunted growth due to the drought is also a cause for concern . Forages such as haylage and corn silage provide nutrients like starch and sugar, which supply cattle with energy and protein. Soybean meal, straight corn and byproducts are great substitutes for energy and protein. However, we must remember forages also provide fiber, a critical nutritional component that is much more difficult to substitute.2

Fall forages such as forage oats and sorghum are feeds that produce good tonnage, some nutrients and can be planted in the fall, but still allow the harvest of a crop before winter. While these are great options and ultimately help to ensure a feed source, it’s important to ensure cattle are receiving high-quality, dense nutrients. This is especially true for high-producing cows. In addition to the quality of the feed source, it’s important to remember if rain is too restrictive to grow crops during summer, it can also lead to growth challenges for fall crops. For producers looking to help stretch their forages, gluten, soy hulls and whole cottonseed are great options to consider.

Preparing for drought-like conditions

In drought conditions, markets often climb for feedstuffs like corn, soybean meal and byproducts. On top of this, milk prices are a far cry from the ideal of $25/cwt.  While all this is a lot to bear, there are things producers can take control of and focus on to set themselves up for success:

  1. Keep your eye on the markets. Work with your nutritionist to find a target price to book. Lock in your feedstuffs so you know you have the quantities you need and can budget accordingly.
  2. Take note of inventories, quality and quantity, and plan for tonnages. This will help to determine the need for additional feed sources early on. If you’re anticipating low-quality forage and fiber, consider adding whole cottonseed to your rations.

Whole cottonseed and dairy rations

Whole cottonseed is an excellent source of energy (fat), protein and effective fiber. The current cotton market is something dairy producers should keep their eyes on. While drought conditions can often lead to volatile commodity markets, cotton prices are currently at historic lows with parts of Wisconsin reporting $305-320 per ton. As with anything, we know cotton prices will inevitably even out. Producers can take advantage of the current low cotton prices to not only get a great price to help protect and allow for budget moving forward but can also give peace of mind knowing your cattle are receiving the nutrients they need. The Cottonseed Marketplace is a helpful tool to find cottonseed suppliers in surrounding states and offers a wide range of specifications to meet individual needs for every dairy operation.

When we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Take the time to call your nutritionist to develop a plan for your feed and forages through the remainder of this year.

Gluten | Cotton | Soy Hulls

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