Livestock and Drought

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Livestock in Caldwell County are being impacted by the current drought. There has been little rainfall in our region since mid-summer. Pastures have been eaten down, forcing farmers to start feeding hay early.

Now is the time for livestock owners to have a good plan for winter feeding and obtain hay they need now or very soon.

Calf nursing

A high quality diet is needed for cows that have a nursing calf. Good hay or pasture can meet all the nutritional needs for a nursing mother. Forage testing is the best way to evaluate forage quality.

Because the drought has also impacted Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, I expect a shortage of hay in the entire region. The flooding in the eastern part of the State has also impacted the hay supply in a negative way.

Of course all hay is not equal. Some hay has better quality than others. To determine forage quality the Caldwell Extension Center can help farmers sample their hay for quality testing. The forage analysis is performed at the NC Department of Agriculture – Food and Drug – Forage testing lab. The test results provide protein and energy content of the hay. These results can be used to develop a customized winter feeding program for growers.

To calculate the hay needed for winter feeding, farmers need to know the number of head as well as the average weight of the animals. This information, along with how much hay is on hand, can be used to determine if there will be a shortage and if hay should be purchased. If quality hay is not available, there are other possible feeds such as corn silage or by-product feeds. By-product feeds are broad range of stuff left over from other processes. This includes spent grains from the beer brewing process, orange peelings from juice making, corn gluten from ethanol manufacturing, whole cottonseed separated from during fiber processing, soybean hulls which are removed before the beans are crushed for soybean oil, and many, many more by-products. Typically by-product feeds are higher quality than hay. However, it often takes a slight change in management or balancing of minerals for these products to make a balanced diet.

Although farmers are familiar with feeding hay, weeds can be a potential issue. When hay comes from far away, there may also be viable weed seeds in the hay. New weeds are a potential issue with hay shipped from far away. This is a common way weeds are spread. There are some local farmers that can attest to having new weed problems after importing hay. This is especially true when lower quality hay is moved around.

Besides weed seed, insects can be moved around too. There are many documented cases of fire ants being moved with hay that is stored outside in contact with the ground. Long story short, be careful when bringing in hay. You may be more than you paid for.

To help farmers locate hay, the NC Department of Agriculture maintains the Hay Alert website ( This website can be used to advertise hay for sale. This is similar to many other online sites used to connect buyers and sellers. The site also includes trucking companies available to help move hay.

If you need help developing a winter feeding program or assistance determining your forage needs, we can help. Please contact me at the Caldwell Extension Center at 828-757-1290 or anytime online at