'Worst it's ever been': Manitoba beef producers bracing for major culls as feed supplies dry up

Manitoba farming groups are calling on farmers to help local beef producers amid a feed shortage brought on by dry conditions throughout the province.

Farm groups calling on non-cattle farmers to sell extra hay, straw after dry conditions slash feed yields

The vice-president of Manitoba Beef Producers said producers in her area may have to sell off half their cattle or more due to a shortage of feed caused by dry weather. (Patrick Foucault/Radio-Canada)

Manitoba beef producers are struggling to feed their herds amid a provincewide feed shortage brought on by back-to-back dry years, farm groups say.

"The dugouts are going dry. The grass … it should be green. It's drying up around here," said Dianne Riding, a cattle farmer in Lake Francis, Man., and vice-president of Manitoba Beef Producers.

"Last year and this year has probably been the worst it's ever been for us here at our farm."

Dry conditions across the province have resulted in yields of hay and forage — both traditional feed sources for cattle — far below expectations, the farm group said in a joint release with Keystone Agricultural Producers this week. 

Riding said farmers in her area, about 65 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, are faced with the prospect of selling off half of their herds or more this fall if they can't find a way to feed their cattle.

Culls of that size would deal a major financial blow, she said, and could drag down the price of cattle and shrink calf crops in coming years. If prices fall dramatically, it could take as many as four or five cows to buy one back, she said.

"To be very honest, I have grown up my whole life around cattle. And we've been joking a little bit lately that we might be cowless this fall, depending if we can find enough feed or not," she said. "And that might be the first time in my life."

Calls for farmers to sell excess straw, hay

Manitoba Beef Producers and Keystone Agricultural Producers issued a joint call this week for farmers who don't keep cattle to sell off excess straw, hay or alternative feed sources to give beef producers a chance.

"Faced with these conditions, [beef producers] are looking to source both traditional and alternative sources of feed and bedding. We are encouraging producers with these kinds of resources available to consider listing them for sale," said Manitoba Beef Producers president Tom Teichroeb in the release.

Dianne Riding, a farmer and vice-president of Manitoba Beef Producers, said this year and last year have been the hardest she's had. (Patrick Foucault/Radio-Canada)

Riding said even rain won't be enough to support beef producers going forward, because the season for many grain crops is all but over. 

"It is scary," she said. "But the big problem is, we have to look after these cattle properly. And their welfare comes above anything else that goes on in our life."

She said cattle farmers can make use of any extra straw that comes off grain crops.

"If the grain producers will allow us to come in and bale that straw, we will have some extra winter feed for our cattle," she said. "And by doing that, it will mean we will not have to cull so many of our cattle."

Keystone Agricultural Producers and Manitoba Beef Producers have developed a fact sheet advising on how to list their resources for sale.

With files from Radio-Canada's Patrick Foucault


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