In gearing up for Hay West, the question has been asked, why not cows east?

It’s an important question to ask. After all, one load of cattle to Ontario, Quebec, or the Atlantic provinces saves sending several truck loads of hay west.

There’s no shortage of easterners wanting to send “extra” feed west, but much of what is put up as hay in Ontario and Quebec is wrapped hay. Shipping hay needs to be dry, and preferably in large squares, not rounds.

So why then aren’t we seeing pot loads of cows and calves coming to Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces?

Nothing is as simple as back-of-the-napkin thoughts. For one, there is an immediate need for hay. Right now. This drought has hit so far and wide that farmers and ranchers aren’t just short of winter feed, they are short of feed right now. And that means there are plenty of cows with young calves at side that are in need.

Moving weaned calves or yearlings is one thing, but as Ken Schaus, cattle feeder and farmer from Bruce County, Ont. explains, moving cows and calves is incredibly tedious and requires significant planning.

Cows and calves must be kept separate on the trailer, he says, but have to be unloaded for feed, water, and rest so the calves can nurse and cows can get some relief from full udders. Even from Manitoba’s Interlake region, the ride to Ontario is a 1,400 mile journey, with added stops because of these requirements.

What’s more, Schaus feels the best option for maintaining the cow herd intact is to get feed to cows now. Older cows, especially from the west, don’t necessarily adapt well to Ontario conditions, even if there were fenced fields to put them in. Western cows aren’t used to paved yards and bunk feeders, he says, and they don’t always transition easily.

Shipping yearlings off grass right now might be the best option, says Schaus, as prices are solid and that would free up as much grass as possible for cows and calves. Plus, Schaus is hopeful that after the combines roll, more farmers will be willing to turn cows out to graze the aftermath or any late plant growth.

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