Drought is forcing tough decisions for West’s ranchers

Early weaning, culling are options as pasture and hay supplies are well below average.


Heather Smith Thomas, Western Farmer-Stockman

Jul 15, 2021


This year is proving to be a serious challenge for many cattle producers in the western states, with prolonged drought and high temperatures.  Pasture and hay supplies are well below average and some producers are running out of forage.


David Bohnert, Beef Extension Specialist and Ruminant Nutritionist at Oregon State University’s Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns, says that if a person can find pasture, that’s great, but if you’re overstocked you need to get rid of some animals early rather than when you are forced to.  The forage available from reducing animal numbers will allow for a longer grazing period.


The Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns, like many other cattle operations, is short on hay this year.  “We have half the hay we usually grow on our flood-irrigated meadows, so we’re planning to feed a little grain to stretch the forage.  We have the infrastructure to do that, so after we have all our hay harvested we’ll inventory it and figure out how much corn or distillers grain we will need, to fill in,” Bohnert said.


“Grass hay is costing $200 to $300, and we’re looking at $250 to $300 corn, so it may pay to use some corn,” he says. “It takes approximately half the corn to provide the same energy; it would take 2 pounds of hay to be equivalent to one pound of corn.  We can feed a decreased quantity of total dry matter, compared with full hay feeding, and maintain the cows.  They may be hungry and bawling (lacking normal amount of fiber fill) but we’ll have a cheaper ration that works.  Rather than buy expensive hay, you might save a lot of money feeding a mix.”


Look at the situation ...


Early weaning ... 


Have a plan ...  


Choosing to cull ...