Manitoba cattle producers in the northwest and Interlake regions face another year of poor pastures, and that could force some tough decisions.
Two years of drought have resulted in overgrazed pastures, said Pamela Iwanchysko, livestock production extension specialist in Dauphin, Man. The cold spring and spotty rain are not helping growth this year, she added.
She said last week that producers were beginning to put cattle out on pastures that aren’t ready because they have no options.
“For those that are, I hope that they’re supplemental feeding still because it’s going to be a huge sacrifice on overall forage production for this grazing season.”
Forage and grass should be at least at the three-leaf stage before cattle are turned out. While pastures in some areas are at that stage, those that were overgrazed are not even close, Iwanchysko said.
Feed shortages are not typical for this part of Manitoba. Rainfall is usually good.
But severe dry conditions the last couple of years means producers don’t have any carryover left. They are looking at alternatives like screenings, pellets and dried distillers grains that they’ve never had to use before, she said.
More concerning is that producers are liquidating herds and quitting the business because of the situation.
“A lot of producers have exited the business so those who have, have had some feed for sale once they culled their herds,” Iwanchysko said. “That’s kind of what’s been happening in terms of sourcing from nearby where producers have just culled really hard.”
The eastern part of Manitoba is also reporting very slow pasture growth this year, with 75 percent rated in good condition and 25 percent fair, while other regions are doing well.
Iwanchysko said looking at the province overall, moisture has probably been adequate, but forage growth is still not adequate because of the cool temperatures.
In Saskatchewan, provincial forage specialist Terry Kowalchuk said the province as a whole is in much better shape than a year ago.
“Last year at this time, the vast majority of the grazing area was short to very short in terms of moisture conditions,” he said. “The most recent map that we have for hay and pasture shows that actually we’re at adequate.”
Overall, pasture conditions last week were rated five percent excellent, 52 percent good, 33 percent fair, nine percent poor and one percent very poor.
There were dry pockets in the southwest, west-central and central regions that may have been helped by weekend rains.
But Kowalchuk also agreed that warmer temperatures are needed.
Native pastures will be delayed and he cautioned against putting cattle out too soon.
“The rule of thumb is that for every day that you put cattle out early on pasture, before it’s at the three to three-and-a-half leaf stage, you’re probably going to lose about three days of grazing later in the season,” he said.
Tame grass does well in cool moist conditions and that’s why complementary grazing systems use both native and tame grass.
Saskatchewan producers who dealt with dry conditions last year were saved by the amount of greenfeed available. Kowalchuk said many producers are integrating more annuals into their operations to give them insurance if their perennials aren’t productive.
In Alberta, pastures are doing reasonably well.
The area in east-central Alberta that was very dry has improved over last year thanks to some rain. Other places have too much moisture.
Grant Lastiwka, the former provincial extension specialist who now works at Union Forage, said from what he can see everything looks good so far.
“It’s setting up to be a pretty good year,” he said. “The moisture appears to be there and we’re seeing good growth.”
He too said the cold temperatures have meant a slow start.
Alberta’s crop report shows most pastures are in good to excellent shape.
The south shows 85 percent good to excellent, while central regions are 77 percent, northeast 67 percent, northwest, 76 percent and Peace River region 81 percent.
The area with the poorest pasture conditions appeared to be the northeast with 33 percent poor to fair.
On Twitter, some producers said they had too much moisture and needed a solid two weeks of good hot weather to dry up the soil and promote growth. Others said pastures were a bit late and needed some rain.
On Twitter, Graeme Finn said west of Highway 2, between south of Olds and Calgary, the cows are out, calving is going great and pastures look good.
“We have not had a start to the summer like this for a few years now,” he said. “With last year’s late rain we are going to be fine this year.”