This year's drought took a major toll on Nebraska grazing land and hay supplies. USDA, as of early October, indicated that 98% of Nebraska's pasture and rangeland is in poor to very poor condition.
"Much of a beef cattle's diet is forage, from calving through finishing, and cow-calf operations rely significantly on range and grazing land," says Jon Holzfaster, a cattle and corn farmer from Paxton and a member of the Nebraska Corn Board. "In total, beef cattle achieve 70% of their growth on forage, and years like this can dramatically limit hay supplies and raise prices for that forage."
However, there are opportunities for corn growers to work with cattle producers to graze cattle on cornstalk residue left in the field after harvest or take advantage of baled cornstalk residue. Jim Ramm, a cattle producer from Atkinson and president of Nebraska Cattlemen, says cornstalks give cattle producers some much needed fall grazing or supplemental baled forage to stretch supplies.
"We're encouraging cattle producers to consider the opportunity of cornstalk grazing because saving existing stored feedstuffs and hay supplies for winter feed is very important for making it through a drought," Ramm says. "Cornstalk residue can be a good feed when managed properly, and we're fortunate that the University of Nebraska has some great resources available."
Rick Rasby, a UNL Extension beef specialist, says UNL continues to compile a drought resource webpage for beef producers at beef.unl.edu. At that site, click on 'Drought' from the left-hand side of that page.
"Fact sheets, feeding recommendations, ammoniating opportunities for crop residue like cornstalks and more, are all collected on that page," Rasby says. "There are also several short videos that discuss using cornstalk bales and links to webinars that provide additional details, ideas and resources for managing forages during a drought."
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture says it is encouraging farmers with available cornstalks to work cooperatively with livestock producers to ensure access to as much quality forage as possible due to the ongoing drought conditions. Hay production, pastures and grasslands have all been greatly reduced as the fall and winter months approach.
"In light of the ongoing drought conditions, I'd like to encourage our farmers and ranchers to work together to ensure as much quality forage as possible is available to our beef cattle herds this fall and winter," says Greg Ibach, NDA director. "The department has created a Hay and Forage Hotline to assist farmers and ranchers in finding hay and forage products, and it is a good starting point for those seeking feedstuffs."
The Hay and Forage Hotline can be found at www.agr.ne.gov. It lists hay and forage, including cornstalks and stover, that is available either for sale or by donation. Those looking to list hay, forage, cornstalks and other feed sources such as silage can do so by calling 800-422-6692.
"We collectively appreciate the work by the University, NDA and others to spread the word on the programs, opportunities and partnerships that can happen not only this year but every year," Holzfaster says. "Working together is what keeps agriculture strong in Nebraska."