Hay Shortage Means High Costs For Oklahoma Ranchers As Winter Arrives

Hay Shortage Means High Costs For Oklahoma Ranchers As Winter Arrives
Nov 23, 2022

By Xcaret Nuñez

In late fall, livestock producers typically feed their cattle hay they’ve stocked up on throughout the year to keep their cows fed through the winter.

But because of this year’s severe drought conditions, crops like wheat and corn withered away and pastures cattle graze on dried up. The extreme hot and dry conditions caused heat stress on cattle herds and dried out ranchers’ water ponds, a critical drinking spot for cattle.

“Everybody may have had a little bit of hay to harvest, but it was a drastically reduced yield compared to what they’re accustomed to feed back to their cattle in the wintertime,” said Dr. David Lalman, a beef specialist for Oklahoma State University’s Extension.

Even if they did stock up on some hay, some ranchers have been feeding their cattle their winter hay supply since July. Not having enough food for cows forced some ranchers to make tough decisions.

“A lot of ranching operations started to sell some of their cow-calf inventory because they just didn't have any feed for those cattle or standing forage for those cattle,” Lalman said.

Hay costs have jumped this year. Brady Womack, a market news reporter for Oklahoma’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, said factors like the drought, fertilizer costs, transportation costs and labor are all reflected in today’s prices.

Compared to last November, Womack said the cost of a bale of alfalfa hay in Oklahoma has gone up by 55% this year, and the price of a bale of grass hay has gone up by 88%.

In an effort to meet demand, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a 30-day executive order to temporarily suspend regulations on vehicles transporting hay bales into the state in early October. Stitt’s order extended the width limit of commercial hay loads to make it easier for more loads to come into the state.

As colder weather approaches, Lalman said it’s important ranchers have a winter plan in place such as narrowing their cow herd down to a number they're able to support with the food they have on hand. He also adds that there are various alternative feed options for cattle, but it’s important for ranchers to stay mindful of their feed's nutritional value.

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