Many Oklahoma cow-calf producers are facing a winter with hay supplies that are less than normal in both quantity and quality. Hay is expensive and producers should carefully evaluate alternative feed sources on a nutrient equivalent basis. Many producers will need additional supplemental feed including the usual protein needs and perhaps increased energy feed needs to compensate for limited supplies of poorer quality hay.
Feed costs have increased significantly in recent weeks following a surge in corn prices. Although the 2006 corn crop was the third largest on record, unprecedented demand for corn for ethanol production has emerged quicker than expected to push up corn prices and raise prices for most grain and by-product sources. Although the long term impact of bio-energy demand for agricultural products is uncertain, what does seem clear is that feed markets will be volatile and many feed market price relationships will have to be continually reevaluated for the next several years. New uses for grain and oilseed crops will likely change what products are available, where they are available and will result in changing values in different regions and for different products. Relative values of energy and protein feeds will likely change as well and producers will need to carefully evaluate the nutritional and economic values of an increasingly diverse set of grain products and by-products.
Meanwhile this winter, cow-calf producers should focus on matching cattle nutritional requirements to available resources, including the feasibility of purchased supplemental feed. By the 2007 breeding season many cows will have been through 15 months or more of drought conditions and careful management will be required to maintain herd health and reproductive performance in 2007.