Severe feed shortage grips parts of Manitoba this fall

Four weeks ago, pastures across Manitoba were in horrible shape. Everything looked brown and there was minimal regrowth.

Unless something changed, many cattle were going to be removed from pasture in early September.

As of Sept. 20, most cattle in the province were still on pasture, thanks to rain and pasture re-growth over the last few weeks.

“A month ago, it looked like guys would be taking (cattle) off pasture by now,” said Tim Clarke, Manitoba Agriculture livestock specialist. “(But) more guys (have been) able to graze into September and possibly into October.”

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that hundreds of cattle producers in parts of Manitoba, particularly the region between Riding Mountain and Lake Manitoba, the area north of Ste. Rose du Lac and the Interlake region, are still struggling with a severe shortage of feed.

A prolonged drought cut into hay production this summer and many fields yielded half or less than half the normal number of bales.

“(Forage) yields are extremely variable depending on moisture levels; yields are coming in at 20 to 60 percent of average production,” Manitoba Agriculture said in its Sept. 17 crop report, describing the Interlake region. “Forage availability continues to be a big concern.”

Clarke, who used to work in the Interlake and is now in central Manitoba, said many cattle producers are calling him for advice.

“(They are) figuring out how to feed straw and some sort of grain-type product … that they’re going to have to buy.”

Normally, livestock producers will buy hay to make up for a shortfall. There is hay available in the province, south of the Trans-Canada Highway, but prices are in the stratosphere, Clarke said.

“Ten cents per pound, for beef cows, really doesn’t make much economic sense.”

Prices for beef cow quality hay, in a normal year, are closer to five to six cents per lb.

Clarke believes hay prices in Manitoba will drop slightly in the coming months. Cattle producers are buying straw and grain to feed their livestock through the winter.

If more producers turn to alternative sources of feed, it should weaken demand for hay.

“Guys are asking a lot for it, but if they don’t get their 10 cents a lb. … then they’ll probably start edging off on the price.”

As well, producers west of Lake Manitoba and the Interlake are culling cows, so they need less feed over the winter.

“Anything that isn’t pregnant, or has a bad attitude, or a bad foot or eye, is going to go,” Clarke said. “They’re going to get sold at the auction mart.”

Alternative sources of feed, grazing into October, reduced herd sizes and slightly lower hay prices should help producers get through the winter.

But if Manitoba has a long and cold winter this year, the feed shortage in the Interlake and Westlake regions could get much worse.

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