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Cow/calf producers in drought-stricken areas facing looming feed cliff

By: RealAgriculture Livestock Team

June 9, 2021

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Drought is hitting areas on the eastern side of the prairies hard, and unless weather patterns change, ranchers in many cases will be hitting a wall as feed supplies dry up as early as July.

Tyler Fulton, rancher, president of Manitoba Beef Producers, and director with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, joined RealAg Radio guest host Kelvin Heppner to talk about the situation that Manitoba ranchers find themselves in this year.

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Fulton’s 600 cow operation is in the Prairie pothole region, which normally features a lot of sloughs — and this year, those sloughs are completely dry.

“Unequivocally, we’re in a real deficit of moisture,” says Fulton. “It started back in the fall, really in August of last year, where the taps just kind of turned off.”

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Last year’s crops turned out alright because of the soil moisture that was there, but winter precipitation didn’t recharge the profile. For much of southwestern Manitoba, Fulton says it’s likely the driest its been in close to 40 years.

Across a broad section of the province, producers are having to take cattle off pasture, or move them sooner than they’d like. Fulton himself was forced to pull 200 pairs off of a 200 acre pasture this past weekend — a pasture with a dugout water source that typically lasts for two grazings.

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Since the grass isn’t growing, ranchers will need to keep on feeding, and the hay supply situation isn’t that much better.

“The mild winter did help us stretch out those feed supplies from last year, but we fed about two weeks longer than we typically would,” says Fulton. It’s drained resources, and crunch time is about to arrive in about a month and a half — everyone’s going to have to make decisions in advance of that wall hitting, unless there’s a change to the weather patterns.

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“The reality is, we’re probably already locked in on some of the pastures, for example, some of the smooth brome and blue grass pastures have largely seen their productive capacity reached this year, until August unless the moisture comes,” says Fulton, noting auction marts are preparing for increased sales numbers in the next few weeks.

Listen to the full conversation to hear Fulton’s thoughts on managing this type of risk, the impact of the drought on the North American cattle market, and measures that government could be taking to assist producers: