After dry summer, ag producers likely need extra feed for winter

SHERIDAN — After a second hot, dry summer in a row, Wyoming’s cattle producers are concerned about heading into winter without enough feed. 

“This year has been extremely dry. Producers have had a lack of feed, a lack of stock water due to the drought, have seen reservoirs drying up, a shortage of hay and have had to buy extra hay,” Linda Benzel with the USDA Farm Service Agency in Sheridan and Johnson counties said this week. 

“People have been having to haul in extra feed from out of the county or out of state, and some have had to sell down their cattle. There have been people who have had to liquidate some of their herd,” she continued. “Last year, it was dry, but it compounded this year. The drought never let up, for two years in a row. It has caused hardship for producers.”

To address the need for winter feed, on Wednesday Gov. Mark Gordon signed an executive order to facilitate hay transport outside of regular operating hours in the state. 

This is the second such executive order to come from Gordon’s office in the past few months, as from July 20 to Aug. 20, temporary emergency rules allowed drivers to make extra fuel deliveries due to a shortage of capacity to meet demand for fuel delivery to airports. 

The hay transport order is effective Sept. 22 through Nov. 30 and will allow motor carriers hauling hay in Wyoming to operate outside of regular operating hours and carry larger loads. 

According to Gordon’s office, “oversize loads of baled livestock feed qualifying for a permit may now operate two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset with a valid permit.” 

“The governor signed the EO now because he determined (through conversations with stakeholders) that without the order in place between now and Nov. 30th, livestock producers would have inadequate access to feed,” Michael Pearlman, director of communications for the governor’s office, said in an email Thursday. 

Derek Grant, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, explained that in the summertime, even in drought conditions, there is generally forage growing in Wyoming pastures for animals to eat. Those resources are quickly depleted, though, and producers have to adapt. 

“What ends up happening is producers use different pastures, or they have to move cattle more frequently, or move to winter pasture earlier,” Grant said. 

According to the governor’s office, widespread drought conditions, low humidity and high temperatures have thus created a shortage of livestock feed. 

Approximately 33 percent of Wyoming’s land area is affected by a moderate drought, and 64 percent is affected by severe or extreme drought conditions. 

Due to the drought conditions, pasture grass and natural feed supplies are depleted in many parts of the state, resulting in “inadequate forage for Wyoming’s livestock,” according to the executive order. 

“When it’s really dry outside and there is not enough forage or not enough growth, producers end up having to move cattle more frequently to sustain them,” Grant said. “And basically, that also means that there is not enough forage going into the winter months.” 

This means producers will have to supplement their herds’ diet with hay they have grown over the course of the year, or hay that they have bought, because “in a lot of circumstances, there is just not enough,” Grant said. 

Benzel said her office has a Livestock Forage Program that can offer assistance to eligible producers in Sheridan and Johnson counties who have suffered grazing losses for covered livestock due to drought. 

“That can help compensate for loss of feed on the range land, if the grass didn’t grow and cattle were unable to graze pastures like they normally do,” she said. 

Her office is closed to the public but is taking phone appointments, she said. 

She also hopes to set up a program that offers assistance to offset some of the cost of hauling hay in, including trucking costs, open by October. 

Regarding the governor’s executive order, she said the quicker producers can get feed, the better. 

“They are in dire need of feed. They are going to need to feed all fall, all winter and next spring,” she said.