This spring I don’t think anyone would have guessed that we would be entering August with anywhere from 6 to 12 inches of precipitation above the normal amount we receive through the summer.  You compare this with the continued drought to our south and west and I’d say we are pretty fortunate to be in the situation we find ourselves. 


Drought in across the southern Great Plains, Southwest, and Pacific coast states as well as along the Southern Mississippi river in Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana continues or seems to get worse as the summer rolls on.  What impact this will have on the national cow inventory, fall prices, and hay stocks is yet to be fully realized, but you can be sure we’ll feel the reverberations all the way up here in Nebraska.  


Two big reports came out this last week that I think are worth sharing.  First from the Livestock Marketing Information Center showing the percent of the national cow herd in areas that were considered poor or very poor jumped from 13% on July 1 to 31% on August 1.  What that is going to mean in the long run is yet to be seen, but is worth paying attention to.  The other was the USDA’s May 1 hay inventory that put national stocks at 15.7 million tons.  That’s 9 million tons lower than last year and the third lowest report in the past 45 years with only 2007 and 2013 lower. 


So what does this all mean for beef producers in Nebraska?  Well for one, the drought and southern rancher’s reaction to it needs to be watched.  UNL is fortunate enough to house the National Drought Mitigation Center on East Campus and you can get their weekly updated map at 


The impact of low hay stores on prices and hay quality this fall and winter are the other thing to be aware of.  While rain is a good thing, a wet year can usually be counted on to lower the quality of hay.  Plants have plenty of moisture to use for growth, so the stem to leaf ratio becomes a bit stem heavy.  In some cases, meadows and low areas that are usually hayed might be impassible, delaying harvest and pushing quality even further down.  So while production on the areas that can be hayed might be up, total tons produced may remain steady and quality drop. 


Once stores are put up for the winter, testing your hay to determine quality is critical.  With the possibility of higher prices due to drought and low stores and lower quality hay produced this year, it might be a good time to look around for alternatives to meet animal energy and protein requirements this winter.    Lining up cornstalks to graze, planning on purchasing some distillers grain, putting up some silage, or stockpiling some pasture are all great options to consider and each have benefits and drawbacks to consider.  But before planning for all that, take some time to test the quality of the hay you have on hand.  Planning out rations is a whole lot simpler when you know where to start from. 


If you have questions about testing hay, reading the report once you’ve got your sample back, developing rations or any other questions on beef production, feel free to call your local extension educator for assistance.  We’d be more than happy to help.


-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce.  He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington.  You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: .