Linda Geist

MOUNT VERNON, Mo. – Drought in southwestern Missouri calls for long- and short-term feed plans for beef and dairy herds.

University of Missouri Extension state dairy specialist Stacey Hamilton urges producers not to panic as local feed supplies dwindle. There are options to carry herds through winter until spring pastures green.

Hamilton and extension specialist Ryan Lock presented winter feeding strategies at MU Extension’s weekly Forage and Livestock Hour.

Producers should first think about their own risk-tasking comfort when developing a strategy. Risk-adverse producers may be most comfortable buying hay. Those willing to take more risks can try other options.

“It is time to think outside of the box,” says Hamilton.

Hamilton recommends these steps:

1. Pencil out daily and total feed demands for livestock.

2. Evaluate inventory of what feedstuffs are available – forages in pasture, stored forages and other supplements on hand.

3. Take stock of available resources such as land, equipment and seed.

4. Consider costs and nutritive value of supplemental feed. Match hay quality to animal nutrient requirements.

5. Cull open cows and unproductive animals. See MU Extension beef nutrition Eric Bailey’s recommendations at

Consider what forages to plant short-term and long-term. To be proactive for the next dry spell, Hamilton suggests planting 20%-30% of available pastures into warm-season perennial grasses. Plan, he says, because some seed supplies may be in short supply this year.

Drought years also are a good time to consider renovating worn-out, weedy or Kentucky 31 fescue fields, says Hamilton. More information on forages is available from the Alliance for Grassland Renewal at

Another option to boost food sources is double-cropping oats for wet bale or silage and then follow with another crop for grazing, says Hamilton. Oats provide a quick forage return.

Other winter annual forages to consider are cereal rye and wheat, annual ryegrass, turnips and radishes. Some producers may want to “mix and match” annuals such as oats/annual ryegrass with turnips and radishes or oats/cereal rye and annual ryegrass to get more grazing days.

Brassicas such as radishes and turnips are good choices for short-term fall grazing, he says. Cattle can bloat on pure stands of brassicas, so add winter annuals to the mix. Brassicas are sensitive to planting date; plant in late summer to early fall.

Another option is stockpiling tall fescue and Bermuda grass fields with strong stands. Boost fescue pastures with fall nitrogen application for winter grazing. MU Extension nutrient management specialist John Lory offers tips on fall nitrogen application to boost stockpiles during a drought year at

MU Extension forage specialist Rob Kallenbach and beef nutritionist Justin Sexten created a spreadsheet to help producers compare the cost of buying hay to applying fall nitrogen. Producers can evaluate options by inputting their own farm variables. Download the spreadsheet at

Despite short supplies of local pastures and hayfield supplies regionally, producers can haul hay in from other areas. A spreadsheet on MU Extension’s website, listed under “Drought Management Options,” helps producers compare the cost of buying pasture, hay and supplements. The spreadsheet, developed by MU Extension ag economists Joe Horner and Ryan Milhollin, in addition to Sexten, also compares costs to ship the herd out of state, or destock and restock.

Buying hay provides a predictable supply to supplement spring pasture growth at a known price, says Lory. Additionally, the fertilizer value of the hay can boost spring forage growth.

Flexibility is key in a drought year, Hamilton says. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Mix and match forages so you have feed for your cows and can sleep at night.”

Finally, plan for future droughts. “There always will be dry spells,” he says. “Severity is variable.”

MU Extension regional agronomy and livestock specialists can help plan.

See Hamilton and Lock’s presentation at

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