What the Drought Means for Dairy Farms

By Kimmi Devaney

Farmers throughout Indiana have faced the worst drought in decades this year. The drought has impacted cow feed for dairies, and many dairy farmers are looking at various feed options. Dairy farmer Paul Mills of Ossian explains how the drought has affected his dairy farm and how this may impact milk production.

“This will be a year of utilizing unique feeds and probably not feeding for maximum milk production,” he said. “The drought not only affects those of us in drought areas but also dairymen all over the country.”

Corn is a staple in many dairy rations—cow diets—and with less corn available this year, some things will change. Dairy farmers work with animal nutritionists to develop the best diet for their cows. Milk production requires a lot of energy, which comes from the feed.  They may readjust the ingredients and the amounts added to make up for the corn shortage.

“When drought conditions are not extreme, the dairy cow has the ability to make the best of a bad situation,” Paul said. “Drought damaged corn may not produce much or any grain, but the plant still contains nutrients that can be utilized by the cow as silage.”

Silage is fermented, high-moisture forage that is eaten by grazing animals such as dairy cows. Silage is most often made from grass crops such as corn or sorghum and retains a great deal of the nutrients present in the plant.

Corn needs rain. Without rain, the plant does not reach its full potential, thus producing lower yields.

“Although the crops have been significantly damaged on our farm, we have not suffered the total devastation that those less fortunate have,” Paul said. “Our corn and alfalfa yields will be about half of normal and our soybean yields could be about normal due to late season rains.”

“Along with that, this year it seems the location, timing and duration of stray showers could make all the difference in the world,” he added. “I would expect most dairymen to survive this set back with fewer cows and less production and the anticipation that next year will be better.”

It’s important to remember that even when faced with adversity and dire circumstances, farmers take pride in producing the highest quality food for you and your family. As you sit down to dinner tonight, raise a glass of ice cold milk to these hard working farm families.

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