Cattle industry still in trouble due to drought

By Staff
Jason Cannon, FCT Publisher
Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks has warned that the cattle industry in Alabama continues to be in serious trouble due to drought related complications experienced in 2006.
The industry is at a highly critical stage because of shortages of both hay and alternative feed sources.
The shortage of hay is a result of no rain in May, June and July of 2006. No rain meant little or no hay to cut. The shortage has caused cattle producers in Alabama to purchase 97,000 more tons of supplemental feed this year for their cows compared to the same quarter in 2005. Although there are other feeds for cattle, a cow must eat approximately 2-percent of its body weight in roughage – hay – daily to remain healthy. Even with the supplemental feed, most farmers still had to thin their herds, slaughtering 10,000 more brood cows in 2006 than in 2005.
"A lot of folk had to sell down their herds lower than normal," said Orland Britnell, Vice President of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association and Franklin County Cattleman. "As a result of that, we think this spring we'll have smaller calf herds."
Sparks said the state has been trying to locate farmers with extra hay, but so far none has been found in the Southeast region.
"I get at least one phone call a day from someone looking for hay," Britnell said, "and I could use some myself."
Sparks and Gov. Bob Riley are also talking with Alabama's Congressional delegation about an assistance program.
"If we don't get these folks some help, the cattle industry will take a hard hit, harder than they have experienced in many years," Sparks said.
Alternative feeds, such as grains, corn and soy products have helped to sustain the cattle's diet, but the excitement over the potential for bio-diesel made from these products have made them expensive and hard to come by.
"The cost of soy beans and corn are going up because of the supply and demand pressure from bio-diesel," Britnell said. "This just makes feed more expensive while the price of cattle hasn't gone up to cover the costs."
The good news, Britnell said, is that the unusually warm winter thus far has helped with the growth of fescue and rye grass, which has helped with cattle grazing.
"Farmers are a tough group," Britnell said, "but it's getting hard to make it by without a second source of income."
Sparks advised to help overcome the shortage, farmers are encouraged to do the following: get nutrition advice from their local Extension Service, have cattle graze in wooded areas, and extend their hay supply by limiting the amount being fed and supplementing with other feed such as pellets, corn gluten, soy hull pellets, and cottonseed.
Commissioner Sparks added that he and his staff are committed to finding assistance for Alabama's cattle farmers and asks that anyone who has hay or alternative food sources to please call the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries at 334-240-7282.