Kentucky livestock farmers are still feeling the effects of last year’s summer drought and late spring freeze.

Many farmers are down to their last few bales of hay, according to University of Kentucky Extension Specialist Les Anderson.

The price of corn and other feeds, such as soybeans, is high, but still not as high as hay. The quality of hay being transported from as far as Kansas is low, but it is still expensive.

Because of poor nutrition, many cows are too thin to breed this spring, and the breeding cycle of cows that calved this year, which optimally resumes after 60 days, may not start for 90 or more. Pregnancy rates are down, and cattle bred late this year will calve during the hot summer months next year. And those calves will weigh less and have higher death rates.

Despite those difficulties, “You can survive this,” Anderson told a group of about 50 Madison County cattle farmers Monday night in the sales arena of Bluegrass Stockyards-Richmond.

Instead of relying primarily on less expensive, low-quality hay, Anderson recommended a diet of mostly shelled corn or soy hulls, plus some hay and a nutritional supplement.

That combination may be more expensive than conventional rations, but still less costly than a lost cow, calf or temporary infertility, Anderson said.

He suggested limiting cattle’s hay feeding time to conserve the resource.

Farmers also should maintain good nutrition for cows that have not calved.

“Some farmers incorrectly think that reducing feed for a cow will make her calf smaller and make calving easier,” Anderson. “Reduced feed will not make the calf smaller, however. It will only weaken the cow, reducing the quality and quantity of her milk and delay the resumption of her breeding cycle.”

Farmers can judge whether their nutritional program is working by gauging the fleshy condition of their livestock. Animal scientists use a scale of 1-9 to rate condition, with 1 for emaciated and 9 for obese. Cows breed best with a body condition score between 5 and 6.

To illustrate the system, Anderson asked stockyard manager Jim Dause to bring into the arena three cows recently put up for auction.

The animals with visible ribs, shoulder blades and hips rated only a 3 and would make poor breeding stock, Anderson said.

Dause said the stockyard had been seeing more than the normal number of cattle with low body condition scores since late summer, when the drought was its most intense.

Anderson urged the farmers to calculate their feed resources and determine how many cows they can feed before pasture grasses mature and hay can be harvested. He recommended selling inefficient cows, those which have not been bred or have been bred late in the season.

Cows whose breeding cycle has been delayed can be prompted to start by feeding them the MGA hormone supplement or by inserting a CIDR hormone release devise.

Few people may realize that next year’s calf crop may be poor because of last year’s drought, Anderson said. Cattle farmers’ prospects can be improved, however, if they follow his advice, he said.

With approximately 65,000 head of cattle, Madison ranks fourth among Kentucky counties in beef production, according to Madison County Extension Agent Brandon Sears. Declining tobacco production has reduced the county’s rank to 34th statewide. It was once in the top five.

Agriculture still pumps more than $32 million into the local economy each year, most of it from beef production.

For more information about livestock management or other agricultural issues, call Sears at 623-4072.

Bill Robinson can be reached at or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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