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SD ranchers stretch feed to finish out winter

A dry summer in parts of South Dakota resulted in a low hay supply this winter, causing challenges for Troy Hadrick and other ranchers. (Submitted by Troy Hadrick)

FAULKTON, S.D. — Ranchers in parts of the Northern Plains face challenges caused by a combination of a drought last summer and a hard-hitting winter.

Troy Hadrick is one rancher facing these challenges. His ranch near Faulkton, S.D., produced only half of its normal hay crop this year.

"It's definitely something we're concerned about," Hadrick said. "It's going to be real tight this year. We're trying to figure out how to stretch resources."

Certain areas of South Dakota were hit harder than others, with the west and north central regions feeling more impact.

Hadrick describes it as being tugged both ways — being short of feed due to drought and also needing more feed for the cattle in the cold weather.

Adele Harty, South Dakota State University Extension cow/calf field specialist based in Rapid City, has encountered a lot of producers looking for additional feed.

"To me, I don't think this winter had an early onset, but when it came, it came with a vengeance," Harty said. "The cold, snow and everything hit all at once."

Alternative feed options for producers include using straw, corn stalks or byproducts, depending on the area. Taylor Grussing, SDSU Extension cow/calf field specialist based in Mitchell, said producers looking to use a new ingredient can contact a nutritionist or an extension field specialist for help on how to incorporate into the ration.

The good news is South Dakota ranchers looking for additional hay don't have to look far. The south central area of the state had adequate moisture, and Harty reports the Winner area had tremendous hay production.

However, due to increased demand, hay prices have gone up. Corn is cheaper than most years, but Harty advises to be careful incorporating corn as an energy source so as to not change the rumen environment.

"When looking at other options, producers should calculate the cost per ton of the nutrient and then compare the cost of energy provided to other feed sources available," Harty said.

Hadrick stated that meeting energy requirements takes a lot of feed.

"We have been feeding more silage, wheat straw and corn stalks, but we've also used more bedding this year than the last couple years combined. We've been pretty lucky the past few years," Hadrick said. "What saved our bacon was the nice weather in November, when we were able to put cattle out on corn stalks."

Although Hadrick has no hay to carry over to the next year, he hopes the amount of moisture received this winter will help next year's hay crop.

In addition to the moisture, the possibility for an early spring may benefit producers.

"With the nice weather so far this spring, some producers may be able to take advantage of that by taking cattle back out to winter range," Grussing said.

The eastern side of South Dakota isn't in the clear yet. According to Grussing, producers should consider how the mud will impact their cows. It will take extra energy to go through mud, comparable to going through snow. Producers should still keep the same rations to support cows, similar to as if it were cold. Although bunks may not get perfectly cleaned up, Grussing points out that giving cows the opportunity to eat is important to keeping a good body condition score.

"On the nutrition side, make sure to get adequate or extra nutrition into cows before calving if body condition isn't ideal," Grussing said. "They should be at 5 to 5 ½ prior to calving. Nutrition requirements go way up to improve the body score after calving."