Mother Nature turned the tables this year in Kansas as eastern Kansas cattle producers dealt with diminished grass for their livestock while central and western regions of the Sunflower State flourished with pastures nourished by abundant rain.
In southeastern Kansas, Jim DeGeer, veteran cattleman from Neosho County, says a long, cool spring delayed native grasses (used for summer grazing) from taking off and growing like they normally do. And when it finally did warm up, conditions were so dry, these grasses never had the opportunity to grow.
“Our pastures were extremely short all summer,” DeGeer says. “I know the guys who cut prairie hay throughout our regions and they told me production amounted to only a third to one-half the normal output.”
Yep, forage availability has been tight in much of southeastern Kansas beginning in June and running into August.
“It’s been dry most of the summer,” the veteran cattleman says. “We were drier and had less grass this summer than during the bad drought years beginning in 2011 and running through 2013.”
Then in mid-August, it started to rain, and the grass began growing and greening up a bit, DeGeer says. By the end of September, the pastures looked like they should have.
Despite the dog days of summer, DeGeer says his cows managed to stay “looking pretty good.”
So, what will this dry spell mean to cattlemen like DeGeer in the long run?
“We’re starting to pregnancy check our herd and we’re seeing more open (not with calf) cows than we normally do,” the long-time cattleman says. “I’m sure weaning weights on the calves will be less this year as well.”
While this scenario is not one any cattleman wants to be faced with, DeGeer will live with the hand he’s been dealt, make changes and move ahead.
This will mean reducing the family cow herd this year. In turn, this will allow the pastures a chance to recover from the dry summer of 2018.
Buying additional feed for his livestock will also mean steeper prices for big round bales. Prices for this coveted commodity have jumped from $30 to $35 a bale to $75 to $100 each.
“We buy a lot of hay anyway,” the Neosho County cattleman says. “We’ll need to pay the piper to keep our cow herd well fed.”
DeGeer isn’t the Lone Ranger when it comes to cutting cow numbers. Neighbors and other livestock producers are faced with the same dilemma.
“I laugh to myself this year,” DeGeer says. “I grew up in south-central Kansas, in the Gypsum Hills around Medicine Lodge, and cattlemen have received more rain out there than we have in south-eastern Kansas during the summer.”
This year is one DeGeer is looking forward to closing the book on. He does not relish paying top dollar for feed at the close of the year especially when some will not even be the best quality.
“It’s kind of been one of those years,” the veteran cattleman says with a shrug of resignation in his shoulders. “Next year’s going to be better.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.