Even if damaged corn can be used for forage, it will not fill the hole in the livestock food supply.

Many producers are tapping into the feed stores they had saved for winter feeding. The availability of co-products is limited at the moment because some ethanol plants have shut down or are considering doing so. Some of them are not contracting new co-products until they actually start harvesting the next corn crop.

 “It’s just a time of real uncertainty,” Shike said.

Producers are going to have to make some tough management decisions.

“We’re encouraging producers who still have calves on cows to consider weaning them early,” said Shike. “If you wean the calf, you immediately reduce that requirement on the cow, and if you then take the calves out of the pasture, you take that grazing pressure off.”

Feeding the calf is usually less expensive than feeding the cow to feed the calf.

Producers have not reached the point where they have to make decisions about culling, which would normally be in the fall.

Shike notes that the U.S. beef herd has been dwindling and that many cows were lost to the 2011 drought in the Southwest, bringing beef prices up to historic highs. Extensive culling would make the situation worse.

Shike said the effects of the drought are likely to be felt for a long time. He suggested some short-term coping strategies but noted that each producer needs to assess his own situation.

 “Look at what feeds you have stored and make the plan,” he said. “Consider weaning the calves, consider culling. If you wean early, you can cull sooner than the rest of the crowd. If you sell those culled cows before everybody else does, you might get a better price.”

He also suggested using low-quality forage for the moment because cows have the lowest nutrient requirements when the calves are weaned and they are still in the early stages of gestation.

 “Once we transition into winter, the cattle are under more strain because of the colder temperatures and the fact that they are in a later gestation stage. Their nutrient requirements are going to go up,” Shike explained.

“You should save any high-quality forage you have for then and supplement it with co-products.”