The question in much of Indiana if you're a livestock grower, with dairy or beef cattle, sheep or horses, is not how much will you have to pay for hay, but can you find it. Extremely dry weather and a devastating late April freeze in southern Indiana has left many forage producers with half a crop. Most who sell hay tell us they can't even supply their customers.
In fact, some have resorted to shipping in hay from out of state, from places such as Wisconsin or Michigan. One problem is that since they buy sight-unseen, it's difficult to judge quality or bale size over the phone.
There are alternatives to paying $7 or more per small square bale, or selling off cattle or sheep, Jerry Perkins says. He is a forage specialist in northern Indiana for the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Normally, he's working with dairymen or beef cattle producers who want to adopt intensive grazing, or do other pasture improvement practices, helping them figure out how to fence off small paddocks to improve efficiency of grazing, while still getting water to their animals. Right now, at least part of his attention is focuses on advising folks looking for alternatives to feed animals to get through this winter.
One option is corn stalks. If they will fence off two to three acres at a time like we do with intensive pasture grazing, and make cattle clean things up before moving them, they will get much better utilization of the stalks," Perkins says. "They will also allow cows to clean up more of the grain that may be left behind after combining."
There are options for growing fall forages to pasture, but the window of opportunity is closing fast on seeding them, if it hasn't already, Perkins says. These and other issues will be discussed at an emergency-type tour scheduled for next month for livestock producers looking fro alternatives to just feeding hay.
The tour will be October 9, from approximately 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., eastern time. It will concentrate in LaGrange County, and offer a firsthand look at what some producers are doing to extend their forage supply. Some are preparing to pasture wheat in the fall, others have planted annual grasses for late fall pasture. Sill others will discuss advantages of brown midrib forages. The tour concludes with a pasture walk on an intensive grazing operation in the afternoon.
Reservations are suggested, so organizers know how many buses they will need for the tour. Call Donna Hunter at 260-463-3471 for details. If you can't make the tour but have questions for Perkins or Victor Shelton, his counterpart in southern Indiana, either contact Hunter at the LaGtange County SWCD, or consult your local soil and water conservation district office for contact information.