09/09/07 — Farmers look for alternatives to keep cattle fed this winter

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Farmers look for alternatives to keep cattle fed this winter

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on September 9, 2007 2:18 AM

Come December, Johnny Weaver will be out of stored feed for the 18 cross-bred cows he raises in Kenly.

But agronomists think there is still hope for herds of grazing livestock like Weaver's -- if local farmers turn to lower-quality nutritional resources like corn stubble and cotton gin waste.

The state's Department of Agriculture and the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service held a workshop Friday at Cherry Research Farm to help local farmers do just that.

Drought conditions have become "exceptional" in the state's westernmost counties. And a wide swath of eastern counties, including Wayne, are now under "extreme" drought, the N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council says.

The lack of rain means not only a terrible season for soybeans, cottons and corn -- it also means that fodder crops for cattle and other grazers are critically short.

Usually left behind for weed control and moisture retention after a corn field has been cropped, stubble -- or "stover" -- is now a cow food lifeline.

Weaver, who attended the workshop, said he wanted to learn.

"Like the guy said, it's not very good quality," he said of the presentation on Friday. "But it's better than a snowball."

Drought conditions are so severe that speakers at the program encouraged them to sell any cattle they weren't sure about.

Weaver said he had already whittled -- the proper term is "culled" -- his herd down by five, and sold the last calf he was willing to sell on Thursday.

He hoped that the 35 acres of corn would save the remainder of his Angus-Simmental crossbreeds.

"I'm very concerned. That's why I'm here," Weaver said. "If I can do this -- I have the baling equipment to do this -- I can get them through the winter."

And getting through the winter is more than just the economics of agriculture, state regional agronomist Bill Yarborough said.

He said farms -- already down by 26 percent between 1997 and 2002, the Census of Agriculture shows -- might dwindle further because of the crisis.

"If the cattle leave the farm, there's going to be condos coming back," Yarborough said. "This is farmland preservation as much as anything else."

The agronomist said it was critical that neighbors help neighbors through the crisis and to communicate that there would be no reasonably priced hay for sale.

"We've got to feed these cows," Yarborough said. "We'll lose a third of the cattle in this state if something doesn't give."