Farmer Focus: Baling roadsides – beer cans and all

We are in the middle of our worst drought since the 1950s here in eastern Kansas. In a normal year we should have had about 635mm of rain at this point in the year. Currently we are at about 225mm.

To complicate things further, we only had an additional 50mm from about this time last year through December. Here are seven lessons I have learned the hard way and would like to share.

  1. You can haul feed or water, but not both. 
  2. Hauling water is terrible. Always go with the largest pipes and fittings possible. 
  3. Be efficient. I put my tanks on the edge of the county road and run PVC pipes through the county ditch (without permission) and connect the truck to the pipes with cam locks. It saves about 30 minutes a load and I don’t cut tracks in my pasture. 
  4. Early weaning works. Some people are weaning as early as 90 days. I will wean some at 100. An old-timer told me wet cows drink “twice what you think they should” – he was right. 
  5. Cows can eat much lower-quality forage than we think they can. If your cows can’t cope in a drought, it is time to evaluate your genetics, because you have neighbours who are getting by better than you and will outbid you on feed. Even the roadsides are being baled here, beer cans and all. Our cows are running on grass that is probably less than 6% protein. They won’t win any awards at the moment, but they are a long way from dead and I am not going broke feeding them.
  6. The government won’t save you.
  7. You can be drought-resistant, but no one is drought-proof. Destocking is effectively selling your livelihood and is a hard thing to do. Make a plan ahead of time of the order that cows will leave. Our order is to cull stock bulls early and open cows, then lower-producing cows, then high-producing cows by age. I have been told I am wrong, but I like to keep heifers in a drought because there are fewer inputs in the short term. 

Daniel Mushrush is a Farmer Focus writer from Kansas. Read his biography.