I went to southern Illinois last week to do some programs and I was taken aback by the severity of the drought in that region.
Corn and pasture fields were not only dead, they were very dead. Many areas of corn fields were not that golden brown like you may see when harvest takes place, but a dirty brown.
Pastures were like a dark brown carpet with only an occasional dogbane weed. It made me feel much better about our situation here (and worse if you will need to by feed, because so much of the crop is not there).
Many areas have received varying amounts of rain the past three weeks that has allowed hay and pasture fields to start growing again.
This has provided us with some options. First, if large areas of fields have died and you want to reseed, do so as soon as possible. As an example, alfalfa needs to be planted by mid-August in northern Ohio and late August in southern Ohio.
Next, avoid grazing pastures until there has been adequate growth to allow the plants to store some energy in the roots. For many of us, that will mean feeding hay a little longer.
In the long run, you will feed less hay, as the plants will have a chance to recover and provide more growth for the rest of the season.
What can we do to provide more feed?
If we look at this from an economic standpoint, I think hay will be in short supply this winter and maybe there is an opportunity to start growing some cheap feed and then sell some expensive feed (hay).
If you are lucky enough to have hay and pasture fields growing again, and you have the ability to stockpile forages, this will be the cheapest way to provide extra feed. You can stockpile pastures or hay fields after grazing or harvesting by simply letting the fields grow for grazing later in the season.
If the fields are predominately grass, you can apply 50 pounds of nitrogen (N) per acre which can improve quality and quantity of the stand.
I recommend applying N prior to a rain and/or mixing a N stabilizer to potential N losses. Fescue and orchadrgrass fields work best to stockpile.
The earlier you graze the fields later in the fall, the higher the quality will be, but the lower the yield. The later you graze (up to a point), the lower the quality will be, but you will probably have higher yields. I recommend grazing orchardgrass by December, but fescue can be grazed throughout most of the winter.
Are there other options? Yes.
There still may be time to grow some brassicas. Turnips are a good option, but time is running short. They need 60-90 days to reach maturity, but in a good growing season, can produce three to five tons of dry matter per acre.
At this point, I would try a short season variety like our common purple top turnip at two to four pounds/acre with 50 pounds of N, but they need planted immediately.
Perhaps a better option is to plant small grains such as oats, cereal rye, triticale and annual ryegrass. The good news is that you can plant these from now into October.
If you have the ability to increase the amount of feed in the next month or two for livestock, there will be financial consequences. If you are low on stored feed, you may not have to purchase additional feed.
On the other hand, if you determine later this fall or winter that you have excess feed, there may be an opportunity to sell stored feed, most likely at a very favorable price.