Dry pastures forcing farmers to feed hay early to help cattle survive
Cattle are already eating hay from the large feeder in Matt England's field. They typically don't start consuming hay until at least late October.
Farmers use hay as an alternative to grass when conditions are dry. Since September has been extremely dry England had to resort to hay much earlier.
"Pasture's gone!" said England. "They have absolutely destroyed the pastures because it has dried up and what they're eating is not coming back." England uses his tractor to haul giant, round bales of hay into their feeder each day.
The Rutledge farmer is baling the final crop of hay for the season. He said it's not the high quality he mowed and baled earlier this year when rain was abundant.
"You're losing quality on your hay because it's getting so dry. It's not producing good quality hay. It's my opinion. We're not getting near the amount of the hay that we would normally get if we had a regular rainy season," England said.
England said he stored enough hay earlier in the year that should be enough to last through the winter. However, many cattle farmers in East Tennessee will not be able to afford to feed or sell their livestock for the rest of this year.
The United States Department of Agriculture reports that Extension Agent Mannie Bedwell said, "A surplus hay situation is changing in a hurry. Cattle producers on thin soils are torn between selling at low prices and feeding hay earlier than normal and risking running short in late winter. Corn yields are good. Fall overseeding of pastures and hay and sowing wheat will ramp up big time once we get moisture."
Extension Agent Steven Huff of Jefferson County said, "Jefferson County has dried up. Rain is much needed but possibly too late to do much good. Hemp, pumpkins and other fall crops are suffering unless they are on irrigation."
Huff told WVLT that conditions are probably even dryer this week than when he reported to the USDA.
According to the USDA report, Extension Agent John Wilson of Blount County said it is, "Still DRY and HOT!"