2014 has been a fantastic year for cattle producers, according to Boone County Extension Agent Mike McClintock, heavy rains throughout the year may augur higher production costs through the winter.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that 52 percent of Arkansas’ pastures were in good or excellent condition; 31 percent were rated fair and 17 percent were rated poor or very poor.

Heavy rains throughout the year largely benefitted cattle producers with plentiful hay, although excessive rains in the north-central portion of the state diminished the crop’s nutrient content, and will likely require some farmers to rely more heavily on supplemental feed through the winter.

“We had a little too much rain and cool temperatures during hay season,” McClintock said. “We made a lot of volume of hay, but due to a lot of the producers not being able to get it out of the field in a timely fashion, the quality of that hay is much lower, in terms of its nutritional quality.”

Fescue hay typically has a crude protein content of about 8 to 10 percent if harvested in late May, but drops drastically as the summer progresses. McClintock said the hay’s crude protein content can drop to 6 percent or less by July.

“Those producers that did not stockpile forage are going to start feeding hay earlier than normal for our area,” McClintock said. “I think many of them, if they did not test the hay for quality, are going to be surprised and have to start their supplementation earlier as well.”

While this won’t affect cattle purchasers or retail consumers, producers’ net income will suffer if they have to resort to feeding their cows distiller’s grain, corn, or other sources of supplemental nutrition.

“If we have a prolonged winter, and they have to rely on this sub-quality hay for as long of a winter as we had last year, then that could have all kinds of detrimental effects on their cow herd for next year’s production,” McClintock said. “If mama cows come through the winter, and they’re losing one or two body condition scores, that’s going to affect their milking ability in the spring, and their breed-back potential after they calf. It’s not a good scenario.”

In the southwest portion of the state, however, cattle farmers will likely avoid having to rely on supplemental feed through the winter, said Sevier County Extension Staff Chair Rex Herring.

“We had a phenomenal hay year,” Herring said, noting that many farmers in the area have been able to keep their herds grazing well through mid-November, and are only now beginning to feed hay. “Supplemental feed isn’t going to be a big factor this year.”

Like other parts of the state, southwestern Arkansas was hard it by drought in 2012, drought that persisted in to 2013.

“We’re going into winter in a better condition than they have probably in years,” Herring said. “The only thing we ask for is for Mother Nature to just not be too hard on us. Last week, a lot of people in south Arkansas experienced snow. I hope that’s not like what the rest of winter has in store for us.”

For more information about forage or cattle production, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.