While for many the warm weather and snowmelt have put the winter and its issues behind us, for area cattle farmers the problems are just beginning.
Faulkner County Extension Agent Kevin Lawson said the issues were not just maintaining herds while the storm was underway but dealing with the effects of the snowmelt on pastures.
“We really need to dry out,” Lawson said.
The problem is the wet weather, the snow, is followed by the melt which means mud. Mud makes it more difficult for cattle to move and they burn more calories, meaning they need more feed. This means moving the cattle around more before a muddy pasture becomes even deeper in mud making the environment worse. It also means more feed is needed during a time when it is too wet for ryegrass pastures – where feed is produced – to be fertilized.
What is in place currently is mud as a result of snow, which, Lawson said, is a worse type of mud than from rain.
“It’s just nasty,” he said.
Mid-February is the time when pastures, ryegrass and wheat, are fertilized for the season, which is not happening now due to the wet weather. And rain is in the forecast. Without pastures being prepared, the end result is less forage for livestock.
“We’re kind of in a crunch on wheat,” Lawson said, as the wet weather prevents field preparation, which impacts yields.
From here problems could multiply. Producers would either have to buy feed, if they can find it to purchase since other farmers are having the same problems, or reduce herd size in order to meet what resources are available.
Lawson didn’t go so far as to predict this would lead to higher beef prices. In fact, if farmers have to sell off earlier it could result in lowering prices as more cattle enter the market. Because consumer prices have more to do with the beef packing companies, it is difficult to anticipate those prices. At the same time, if farmers are selling more cattle earlier and carrying smaller herds through the season it could certainly impact their bottom line.
And it looks like it is going to be wet for a while yet.
“Beef farmers’s bottom line is not looking good right now,” Lawson said.
Worse news was the impact of the storms themselves. Lawson said the county average per producer has been about two-to-three calves lost during the storm, with some having lost as many as five due to weather extremes.