Summer drought causes hay scarcity, beef producers suffer
While the hot, dry summer was great for swimming, it has wreaked havoc on the region's farmers, particularly those who raise beef, a product that has become increasingly more in demand since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cheryl Layer, owner of Alcovia Angus farm in Alcove and president of the Outaouais chapter of the Union of Agricultural Producers, said that her farm and many other regions are working with 40 to 60 per cent of their normal hay yield for this time of year.
“We typically have one to three cuts per year, but because of the cold spring and the drought in the summer we didn't get a very good first cut this year,” explained Layer. “Typically the second cut is approximately 40 per cent [yield] of the first cut, but this year we're getting roughly the same amount on the second cut because of the rain we got in late August and early September.”
Layer said that, while the improved second cut is helping, it’s just not enough.
“The price has jumped from $35 to $40 for a big round bale, to over $100 plus transport, so it could be a $130 bale before you get it home,” Layer said. “Producers are looking for hay and it's really difficult; they’re just scratching by.”
Layer adds that, with the lack of feed, a lot of producers will have to sell some of their stock, sending them in earlier and lighter, meaning they are making less money, which means a drop in the following year's income as they might have fewer cattle to breed calves.
“Plus, we only have two abattoirs in the area and they are maxed-out; they can't take anymore animals. So ... [producers] won't be able to take their animals to slaughter until January or February,” Layer explained. “There are producers who sell locally and if they have customers that usually buy in the fall, they have to wait until January and the question is whether those customers are willing to wait.”
Victor Drury, a cattle farmer in La Pêche, is in the middle of his second cut of hay. His situation is somewhat more favourable, as he can make “ensiled” — a form of fermented hay that doesn’t need to be dried beforehand. But in spite of this, he said it still looks like he will come up short.
“Usually, if we have enough feed for the winter, we take the calves away from the herd and raise them until March and feed them separately with our best quality feed,” Drury explained. “[But] it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”
Drury said that his farm usually produces around 3,500 bales a year, but estimates this year he will end up with around half of that by the end of the second cut, meaning Drury will have to sell a large number of his herd in January when the cows are still underweight and thus have less value.
“We'll also have to do a pregnancy check on all of our cows soon and sell anything that's either not pregnant or recently pregnant,” Drury added. “Usually we do that in the spring, but we might have to do it earlier, so we don't feed them all winter for no reason.”
Drury said that he expects he’ll be able to keep around 30 cows and have to sell the rest due to lack of feed.