Hay producers worried drought might deplete hay stock for winter

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The promise of rain this weekend is keeping local ranchers hopeful they will be able to save their hay businesses. But with the current drought, some ranchers are worried.

Cary Sims, the extension agent for the Texas A&M AgriLife of Angelina County, says September is the best month for ranchers to start storing their hay bales for the winter.

But because our county hasn't had much rain, ranchers say their hay production is struggling. For the past 8 years, Ron Merrel has been raising his cattle and growing his hay.

But with this year's drought halting hay production, Merrel says he's a little worried.

"The rain stops, the hay, or the grass rather, will stop growing and when it stops growing it will be at a certain stage of maturing, and when there's no more rain, the grasses will continue to use the available moisture in the soil until it's completely depleted," Merrel said.

Sims says the drought can be hard for East Texas hay producers.

"East Texas is blessed normally with high rainfall, which allows us to produce quality forage when there's rain," Sims said.

Merrel has about 60 cows, and 250 bales of hay and with no rain, the prospect of growing any more hay for the winter months is nothing more than a far off dream.

"The grasses will begin to lose their value for these cattle so we'll start feeding their hay early and we'll start buying some additional supplement for them because the grass is playing out so early on us," Merrel said.

Hay is considered to be a cheaper source of feed, so when you run out of hay, hay producers have to invest in supplemental feed, which can be costly.

"The goal ought to be to feed as much of your hay as possible since the cow is already set up to digest forages and things in the first place," Merrel said.

Merrel says his brood eats anywhere from 30 to 90 pounds of hay a day, and he puts up 3 bales of hay per cow, which is approximately 180 bales of hay.

"3 large, round bales per cow will pretty much take us through that, so that's our goal," Merrel said.

Merrel says he should have enough hay to provide for his brood during the winter months.

But Sims says the best advice he would give to young hay producers is to make sure to count your stock, and start saving hay during the summer months.

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