DAUPHIN, Man. — After a five-minute drive, across a bumpy pasture, Hans Myhre hopped out of his truck to check on a herd of about 40 Charolais cows and a bull.
With Manitoba’s Riding Mountains to the south and a stand of poplar trees to the west, the cattle were grazing at a scenic spot on the pasture, about 15 kilometres south of Dauphin.
The location was beautiful but one crucial item was missing — green grass.
When Myhre bent down to take a closer look at the pasture, he had a hard time spotting green shoots among the brown and grey-looking grass.
“We grazed here early June and we just put them in here last week. The Timothy is all mature and they don’t want to eat it… but at least there is something here. But some stuff didn’t grow back at all,” said Myhre, who runs Myhre Land and Cattle, raising purebred Charolais and managing a commercial cow-calf operation, on land by Dauphin and near Crane River, Man.
The lack of green vegetation on Myhre’s pasture isn’t a surprise because brown pastures are the norm in Manitoba this summer.
With the exception of a few areas, forage production is half of normal or worse because of a cold, dry spring and a lack of rain this summer.
Myhre estimated his farm has received 100 millimetres of rain since the start of the growing season. North of Ste. Rose many cattle producers are worse off, with only 50 mm of precipitation this spring and summer.
For weeks, Manitoba Agriculture has reported on poor pasture conditions and inadequate hay crops throughout the province.
“Hay crop yields are 20 percent of normal to non-existent in the Ste. Rose, Rorketon, Alonsa and Ethelbert areas,” the Aug. 13 Manitoba crop report said. “Supplementing feed on pasture is expected to begin if not already started in areas with poorest pasture conditions.”
Supplemental feeding is definitely happening.
On a field near McCreary, along Highway 5, about 30 cattle had surrounded a couple of round bales in a completely brown pasture.
Some producers are putting out bales because they don’t have a choice. Pastures aren’t re-growing or alternate pastures, with green vegetation, don’t exist.
“Unless you keep the cattle off (the pastures), you’re never going to see much recovery,” said Darren Chapman, the chair of the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA) and a rancher near Virden, Man.
“A lot of people don’t have that luxury to rotate them (to other pastures).”
Myhre is in a better situation than most. He has ample pasture around Crane River and in the winter his cattle get most of their nutrition from corn grazing. He also purchases hay for supplemental feed.
“The last couple of winters that was our main winter supply for the cows,” he said. “They basically grazed corn from the start of November to the end of April.”
This year, though, he plans to silage the corn so he can control how much feed the cattle receive during the fall and winter.
Other ranchers are more desperate.
“Guys are trying to make every bale they can. All the ditches have been cut here. Almost every available blade of grass is getting cut (in the area),” Myhre said. “I’ve never seen it like this.”
In mid-August the MFGA held a board meeting and the consensus was that the pasture conditions and hay shortages are most severe in the Ste. Rose area and the Interlake, said MFGA executive director Duncan Morrison.
However, hay supplies will likely be short in most regions of Manitoba because of cold winters and below normal hay production the last couple of years.
“It’s just been a domino effect,” said Chapman, who, with his partners, runs a grain farm, produces hay for the dairy and horse markets and manages a herd of cattle.
“The winter of (2018-19) was cold and long, so it used up all your (hay) reserve. Then the pastures never got started (this) spring, so you were feeding longer than normal.”
With minimal hay available, producers will need to get creative; using straw, feed grains and other alternatives to get through the fall and winter, Chapman added.
To get hay and feed to ranchers who need it, the Manitoba Beef Producers and Keystone Agricultural Producers are encouraging farmers to list available sources of feed on sites like the Manitoba Hay Listing service.
Producers can also find potential sources of feed on the MFGA website at mfga.net/hayrelief.
Getting out information about available hay is helpful, but there’s only about 20 postings on the Manitoba Hay Listing Service. Many ranchers may only have sufficient supplies for their cattle and don’t have excess to sell.
Consequently, producers short on forage might have to reduce their herd size, soon.
“A lot of people are going to have to make the hard decision to what animals they’re going to cut back and let go,” Chapman said. “They’re looking at their pastures (now). If I cut back so many head that will get me through…. (Then) just feed a certain number this winter.”