Cattle producers already making plans to cope with dry conditions

INNISFREE, Alta. — In dry years, plants under stress put energy into seed production, not growth.

So Lyndon Mansell hopes that letting his cattle nip the tops of the grass just before it goes to seed, will delay that stage.

That way, he figures if a rain comes, the grass will start growing again, and he can salvage a hay crop.

However, if there’s no rain soon, he and other cattle producers will struggle to find feed.

“The hay available has already been bought up pretty quick. What is left will not be parted with at any price,” said Mansell of Innisfree.

With no good rain since the snow melted, the hay and pasture is struggling.

“It’s dreadful,” Mansell said.

And it’s not just northern Alberta hay and pastures struggling to grow grass.

Lyndon Mansell has grazed his cattle on his hay crop to stop the grass from going to seed. If a rain comes, he hopes the grass will recover and he can hay the crop. | Mary MacArthur photo

Lyndon Mansell has grazed his cattle on his hay crop to stop the grass from going to seed. If a rain comes, he hopes the grass will recover and he can hay the crop. | Mary MacArthur photo

At Leslieville, in western Alberta, Rose Wymenga looks at her computer every day hoping that rain forecast prove true.

“It’s very dry. We’ve had very few showers. There is a lot of concern over whether anything is going to grow,” she said.

“There is not a lot of green and not a lot of grass and there is a lot of concern.”

Except for isolated showers, most of the Prairies have received little rain.

Southern Manitoba and parts of southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Alberta have received some rain.

In northern Alberta, Gordon Graves said an almost inch of rain at the end of May helped the grass in his area.

“The alfalfa is starting to bud and doesn’t look bad, but the grass in betwixt is pretty sparse,” said Graves, of Iron River.

Graves is reluctant to turn his cattle on to his grass for fear that he will lose any potential hay from what growth might occur. He is still feeding hay from last year and selling hay to his neighbours.

He also switched from seeding hard red wheat to CPS because the straw is more palatable and it might be badly needed in the fall.

In Westlock, Ted Ford said dry weather has become a real concern.

“How long will the grass last is on everyone’s mind. If the grass runs out, it will make for a long feeding period. It makes for an expensive feeding period.”

While tagging a newborn calf June 4, Ford said the pasture was covered with hundreds of tiny grasshoppers that will soon compete for the grass.

The grasshoppers reminded Ford of the “nightmare” of 2009 when grasshoppers ate everything, including the rhubarb, onions and potatoes in his garden.

After the severe droughts of 2002 and 2009, Ford designed a drought plan he has started to implement.

He has ordered hay for the fall. The price has yet to be determined, but he suspects it will increase.

Instead of backgrounding his yearling cattle on grass at home, they have been sold. He kept fewer replacement heifers and he is thinking of selling some cow-calf pairs.

“There are lessons learned in the last few droughts and they were painful.”

In Saskatchewan, hay and pasture crops are not looking much better.

Saskatchewan Agriculture’s regional forage specialist Sarah Sommerfeld, said a lot of forage crops were affected by the late spring frost.

Damage to the legumes is compounded by the lack of moisture and cool weather making it difficult for plants to recover, said Sommerfeld, of Outlook.

“They look a little bit stunted as well,” she said.

“We are seeing the dry conditions across a large part of province that is  severely impacting forage yield potential.”

Concerns of poor forage yields have farmers looking at alternatives like green feed and silage, she said.

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