Cattle producers resort to cattails, straw, and other creative feed sources while waiting on green pastures

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Snowbanks may have made moving feed to cattle a challenge in eastern areas of the Prairies that received plenty of snow this winter, but cattle producers are definitely not complaining about the now-melting drifts as they scratch through an extremely tight feed situation in anticipation of green pastures.

As foreseen since the drought last summer, cow-calf producers have had to resort to many alternative feed sources to maintain animals that were not sold off last fall.

“It’s extremely tight. There’s there’s no doubt about it,” says Tyler Fulton, president of Manitoba Beef Producers, in the interview below. “Producers are really utilizing every feed stuff they can — I think it’s an unprecedented amount of diverse sources of feed that’s being utilized right now.”

That includes feeding more straw and crop residue than ever before, as well as less conventional sources of fibre.

“Cattails, crop residue, there was, I’m told, three times the amount of cereal green feed produced in Manitoba than what we would have seen in a typical year,” notes Fulton. “And so, you know, it’s the breadth of the diversity that is really unique. I don’t think it’s odd that we find different feedstocks to use, but it’s just being done on such a widespread basis.”

There have also been some changes to AgriRecovery drought programs in Manitoba, with an expanded list of eligible expenses and an extended April 15 deadline for claims.

“There’s likely a number of producers that knew that their supplements were eligible, but may not be aware of the new component of the extraordinary expenses, which really will help to get closer to that maximum dollar figure of $250 per head. So that’s what we’re hoping to kind of make sure everybody’s aware of, that there is a good program out there,” says Fulton.

Manitoba Beef and other provincial farm groups, such as Keystone Agricultural Producers and Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association, are trying to raise awareness of the AgriRecovery assistance programs, not wanting the funds that have been committed by the federal and provincial governments to go unclaimed.

“It’s definitely a concern of mine,” says Fulton. “There’s no doubt that Manitoba took a different approach (than Saskatchewan and Alberta), a more targeted approach, to address the issue and support the breeding herd. I guess we’ll have to find a way to see how effective it is, what the uptake is, but at this point, the goal is just to get as many producers enrolled that can be. That’s what those funds are for, to support those cow calf operations that that really took a hit in the drought.”

Overall, there’s a renewed level of optimism heading into the 2022 grazing season in Manitoba thanks to the snowy winter and ample spring moisture, he says.

“There’s no doubt that the snow, as difficult as it was, and with the snow banks, struggling sometimes to get at the feed or to deliver it out to the to the cattle, it was a tough thing. But I do sense that there’s a lot more optimism about this spring, and what the production season is going to look like,” says Fulton. “It feels like that drought, that real shortage of precipitation, hopefully is behind us for a while.”

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