August 29, 2007 | By: Aimee Nielson

This year began with a brutally cold winter followed by a late and detrimental frost and so far, Kentucky is experiencing the third driest May-through-August in 113 years. Any of these weather events alone could create challenges for farmers in terms of feeding livestock in the upcoming winter, but combined they are a real cause for concern, said University of Kentucky Extension Livestock and Forage Economist Kenny Burdine.

“Since hay was short coming into this year, cattle producers are starting to get nervous about winter feeding,” he said. “Those who aren’t nervous should probably start thinking ahead, because winter is just around the corner.”

Burdine said there are two ways to make up for the expected shortfall. One is to purchase additional feed and the second is to lower the amount of feed needed from outside sources. 

“Stockpiling fescue might be the easiest way to delay winter hay feeding,” he offered. “Fescue doesn’t grow much in summer, but it will pick back up in September. By all means, don’t waste any forage this fall. Rotational grazing can double forage utilization and stretch additional grazing days out of your pastures.”

Another option is fall fertilization if farmers want additional growth this fall. Burdine said that with adequate moisture, fall response to fertilizer is good and can stretch out the grazing season.

“However, with nitrogen prices as high as they are, I would make certain that I was strip-or rotationally grazing this growth to get the most nutrients to my cattle for the money I spent,” he said.

Some farmers are opting to look at less traditional feeding options such as chopping corn for silage, rolling soybeans for hay and grazing or rolling corn stubble after the fall harvest. 

“Still, a lot of cattle producers are going to be purchasing feeds this winter,” Burdine said. 
“The same advice applies in drought years as in nondrought years. You need to meet the nutritional needs of your cow herd as cheaply as possible. Farmers want to make sure their cows are adequately nourished because they don’t want to suffer the consequences with their next calf crop. But they also want to manage their costs as much as possible.”

Purchasing hay from other states may be very expensive and Burdine said he continues to hear some very high prices for that hay. He emphasized though, that hay is only one potential feed in a drought year. 

“Farmers should price hay, corn and commodity-based rations to see which will get them through the winter with the least expense,” he said. “Hopefully a combination of extending grazing, alternative feeds and management of winter feeding costs will position cow-calf producers to enjoy, what I hope is, a much better 2008.”

If farmers do need to purchase hay from other sources, a good place to start the search is with the hay hotline. The hotline is a joint effort between the UK College of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, designed to help farmers find hay resources. The number for the hotline is 888-567-9589 and the web site is

Additional drought information can be found at the UK Cooperative Service’s drought information Web site.


Kenny Burdine, 859-257-7273