Ranchers holding onto hay if they have it
Clouds of dirt filled the air as Chad Ensz and his father, Orlin, swathed a cornfield north of US-56 along Remington Rd.
They were bailing what was left in the field so ranchers could mix it with other ingredients for cattle feed.
Lack of rain has made hay in short supply. Drought had impacted 14,061 cattle in the county through Sept. 27, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.
The entire county is classified as abnormally dry this year, the system said. August was the 31st driest and year-to-date was the 64th driest in the past 128 years.
Abnormally dry conditions lead to lower stock pond levels, delayed planting — especially for winter wheat — and increased need for irrigation.
The program’s data indicates that 7,510 — or 59.3% — of people in the county are affected by moderate drought that stresses wheat and grasses, leading to a demand for hay. The risk of fire rises. Ponds levels are low, and habitat is poor in migratory flyways.
Severe drought has affected 2.65% of the county, severely damaging crops and decreasing yields for wheat, corn, soybean, and hay.
In a severe drought, cattle sales would be high, and emergency grazing would open.
David DeForest has plenty of hay. He grazed stocker cattle over the summer.
“We always plan on keeping a pretty big surplus,” he said. “Hay’s really tight. It’s pretty expensive.
He sold some of his hay to ranchers who needed it, but for the most part, “we’re going to sit on it,” he said. “You never know how short it might be next year.”
His father runs 130 head of cattle and also has enough hay at the moment.
He might sell some but likely won’t, he said.
In nearby McPherson County, “there’s people who are scrambling to find enough” to feed cattle, Daryl Larson said.
He has a small calf cow operation and also raises corn, soybeans, milo and wheat.
His 35 cattle grazed on summer grass, but he added protein supplements “because the grasses were so dry.”
He didn’t have any alfalfa, and his brome was about 50% to 60% of a normal year.
‘The rain came too late for the cool season grasses like brome,” he said.
His native prairie grasses — bluestem and Indian — “did pretty well, so I think this winter, I’ll be good.”
Last modified Oct. 6, 2022