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Ranchers Still Dealing With Feed Shortfalls

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Late summer rains have improved the pasture situation in the area somewhat, but cattle producers are still facing feed shortages heading into a long Parkland winter.

While areas throughout the Interlake were reportedly hardest hit, producers in the Dauphin Valley have some challenges of their own.

“We’re at about somewhere between one-third and 50 per cent of our normal hay production, feed production. So I’m thinking the pasture situation would probably be similar,” said Dean Gamache, who runs a 300-head cow-calf operation on his Stone Ridge Ranch south of Ste. Rose. “We got a little bit of a bump there with that bit of rain. We were kind of in pretty dire straits as far a real early start to feeding, at least in our situation. But everybody’s sort of different, every situation is different.”

Further to the west, on Hockridge Farms, a 600-head operation owned by Glen Hockridge, the story is similar, with hay production far below what is normal.

“On the younger fields, like the newer fields, I’d say it’s about half. And the older ones were a quarter, maybe a quarter. They were really bad. The older ones were just dried out, I guess,” said Hockridge, who, like Gamache, was pleased to see the rains three weeks ago which helped pastures. “They’re a little better after that rain, but it’s made us do a lot of juggling and, of course, supplemental feeding.”

For Gamache, the rain has added close to a month of grazing, a relief considering he was starting to think he would have to start feeding in early September.

“We’re probably going to get pretty close to October here, the first week of October, maybe. So it did make quite a difference,” Gamache said, adding he also grazes standing corn beginning in November of each year, which lessens the days he had to feed his herd.

“We don’t really feed a bale of hay to our cow herd, our mama cows, until about the middle of January. So we were looking at having to start feeding cows here in September so that’s quite a difference.”

Both ranchers have turned their attention to securing a winter feed supply, although neither has had to go looking outside the area for hay supplies at this point.

Hockridge looks to carryover some feed from year-to-year and, although his stockpile is not as large as normal, he should have enough to get him through the winter months.

“I think we’ll get by, for sure, because our neighbours, a lot of our neighbours, let us have some straw, so we have got that for feed. And we have got some feed from last year. We had a little bit of a carryover, I always try to,” Hockridge said, adding he has also brought in a bit of grain to supplement feeding.

On Stone Ridge Ranch, although it is mainly a cattle operation, there are some acres available for annual crops. This year, those crops were cut and baled as silage for feed, Gamache said.

“Any kind of crop, any kind of grain production that we would have got off of it, we would use here on the farm. The only trouble is if you start to add up the bushels of grain that would be in a bale or in our entire supply of feed, and then you start to pencil out the value of that bushel of grain today, those are fairly expensive bales of feed.”

Gamache added he feels fortunate to have those acres at his disposal.

“We weren’t really in a position where we were going to be stuck as far as winter feed goes.” he said.

The province has introduced several programs aimed at dealing with transport costs for animals and feed, low water conditions, mental health concerns and more.

Gamache, who is always involved in crop and hay insurance programs through which most of the government assistance was funnelled, accessed some funds to assist with the expense of having his greenfeed bale silaged by a custom operator.

“We haven’t used it to purchase feed directly, but because of the fact we’ve had to silage all the cereals we do and there’s a big expense in doing that. We’re lucky we’ve got a local guy that comes out and does the wrapping for us. It’s a totally different system, we’re built for dry hay,” he said. “And we have the extra expense that we’re going to need to get it to the cattle. Luckily for us, we’re fortunate it’s three or four miles as opposed to people who have to bring it 40 miles. But that’s still another expense that’s going to be spread out over the winter of time and fuel and energy and work to do that. It isn’t typically part of our system.

“We didn’t take money from the program and go and buy bales of hay. We’re going to be using it on the extra operating expenses compared to what we normally would do.”

Hockridge has not accessed any of the government assistance available and feels, when considering the disaster-like conditions facing producers, the programs were cumbersome and inequitable.

“We’re looking into one, but it’s never perfect to do a government thing. it takes so much BS to get a payment,” he said. “I don’t know why they don’t just pay so much a cow and that’s that. Anybody that can scrape up enough shouldn’t be penalized for some that can’t.”

While much of the attention this summer was focussed on the Interlake where pastures were virtually nonexistent, hay crops were decimated and producers were forced to sell off their herds, both producers feel fortunate to be in the shape they are in this fall.

However, while they will not be embarking on a major cull of their herds, both Gamache and Hockridge will be managing things a little more tightly.

“Normally we would retain and background some of our calves and I think we’re probably not going to do that, or at least that will be kept to a minimum,” Gamache said. “Maybe just anything we’re going to keep possibly for replacement animals.”

Hockridge will make decisions based on keeping his herd as strong as possible.

“We’ll cull, you know a little bit harder probably, maybe not keep as many for finishing and stuff,” he said, adding some decisions will be made as the cattle are brought back in from pasture.

“Then we’ll decide, anything that’s getting a little older or showing any signs of you know getting crippled up a little bit.”

There's a lot more great Agriculture stories in this week's TMC Dauphin Herald!