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Drought poses threat to state's cattle herds

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi could join Texas, Oklahoma and other southeastern states in widespread shortages of hay and forages if dry conditions continue.

Rocky Lemus, forage and grazing systems specialist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, said Mississippi cattle producers are seeing about 50 percent losses of pasture and hay production.

Drought conditions can cause more challenges than just shortages in grass and hay.

“Plants accumulate more nitrogen when drought-stressed, and that can cause nitrate poisoning in cattle,” Lemus said. “If producers are spraying pastures during droughts, herbicides will not be as effective, since most them need moisture to move into the root systems. Extending the grazing restriction might be a good idea if herbicides have been applied during the drought conditions. Also, some weeds could be more toxic during stressed conditions.”

Lemus said when rains help green up pastures, producers should delay returning cattle to allow time for the grass to recover.

Jane Parish, Extension beef cattle specialist, said producers are experiencing high feed prices at a time when grass is in short supply. Many producers are lowering their stocking rates to compensate for grass and hay shortages. Another strategy is to wean sooner than normal to give cattle time to recondition before the next pregnancy.

Flooding along the Mississippi River caused problems for a handful of cattle producers this year.

“If ponds were flooded by the river, producers have to worry about possible chemical contamination,” Parish said. “Old batteries, arsenic and lead are some potential problems as well as a lot of bacteria that grow in wet conditions. We worry about some cattle diseases transferring through contaminated water even during normal conditions.”

Parish said most Mississippi cattle producers are in much better shape than those in Texas and Oklahoma.

Source: Mississippi State University Extension Service

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