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Poor hay quality leads to cattle issues
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Cattle rancher Tommy Blackstock keeps his 160 to 170 head spread among different pastures. Livestock in the distance ruminate on a bale of hay Blackstock just dropped. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Farmer Tommy Blackstock has noticed the cattle on his farm aren’t eating quite like they should.

“I can tell it’s not as good as it has been,” he said about the hay he’s been feeding his cattle. “The cows don’t seem to be eating as good. I’ve had some other people mention the same thing about it with their hay.”

For many farmers, rain is a good thing but the excess in 2013 has led to a lack of nutrients in the hay, which is leading to health problems in cattle.

“It has not shown up until now because farmers have only had to begin feeding hay in the last two to three months,” County Extension Coordinator Michael Wheeler said. “The nutritional value in the hay is very low because it either got cut and then rained on, or it had to be cut when it was very over mature.”

Farmer Larry Nix said “quantity is great, quality is mediocre” about the hay supply this year.

“You’ve got to come back with supplemental protein to get it in the cattle,” he said. “If you don’t, then they’re going to start losing weight.”

The rain basically breaks down the nutrients in the hay, leading to a lack of what cows need for good health. Poor nutrition can lead to weight loss in the cattle, among other health issues, even sudden death. Cattle can starve to death even if they are eating large quantities of hay if they are not getting the proper nutrition.

“With my cows, you might put some trace mineral salt and stuff like that,” Blackstock said. “Some people will put molasses blocks and stuff like that with their herd. I normally don’t. But in the winter time, they’ll have what grass is in the pasture, what grows during the winter. And the rest of it is the hay.”

And this doesn’t only impact farmers. With the struggles Southeast cattle farmers are experiencing combined with the drought out west, consumers may see an increase in their grocery prices.

“You’ve heard the expression, ‘There’s not a cow in Texas’?” Nix said. “Well, there’s not a cow in Texas. They sold out last year or the year before last, because the drought hit them and they were not able to feed.

“See, they pay us over $2 a pound for our calves this fall. So they’ve got to go to the feedlot. They’ll make it through the feedlot, then you’re looking at $4 or $5 a pound from there, by the time it’s to the grocery store you’re at $10 to $15 a pound.”

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