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OK drought challenges ranchers

New methods used to feed cattle

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (UPI) | August 30, 2011

"Farmers have to be the eternal optimists"

—Andy Qualls

Extreme drought conditions across Oklahoma dried up hay and forage crops, making it necessary for ranchers to find new ways to feed livestock, officials said.

Sowing cool-season grasses and weaning calves earlier are among options for feeding livestock through the winter, said Andy Qualls, technician at the Muskogee County Conservation District.

Ranchers have had difficulty feeding livestock.

The drought and temperatures exceeding 95 degrees have boosted potentially deadly nitrate levels in corn and other forage crops, the Muskogee (Okla.) Phoenix reported.

"The nitrate problem is particularly bad this year," Qualls said. "Livestock is especially susceptible, and this can cause death."

High temperatures stunt plant growth, resulting in nitrogen becoming trapped in the plants, Qualls said. Ranchers planning to use crops that have accumulated nitrates are encouraged to have levels tested by the Oklahoma State University Extension Service.

"What we haven't had are the soaking rains we need to keep it growing," Qualls said. "What we need is something more like a tropical depression."

National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sellers said rain is unlikely in the foreseeable future. He said the drought could last for some time, making the normal 12.29 inches of rainfall in eastern Oklahoma from September through November improbable.

"At least not the period we're willing to stick our necks out on," Sellers said in reference to chances of substantial rainfall. "The trend for the next three months is favoring below normal precipitation."

"Farmers have to be the eternal optimists," Qualls said. "If they weren't, they would have quit a long time ago."

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