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Hail prompts early silage chopping

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Wheatland — A severe thunderstorm that brought significant hail to the area south of Wheatland mid-August is still having an impact on producers’ management decisions, especially regarding feed supplies for winter.
    “The hail damage was widespread, but the worst of it was west of I-25 and north of Highway 34 going to Laramie,” says Platte County’s UW Extension Educator Dallas Mount. “From what the producers are saying, the worst is in terms of damage to the corn, and it’s the worst they’ve seen in a long time.”
    “That hail storm had my name on it, and it hit every field I’ve got,” says Wheatland cattle and crop producer Juan Reyes. “It hit us pretty hard, especially on second cutting alfalfa, corn and sugar beets.”
    Southeast Wyoming is included in the three-state area of the U.S. known as “Hail Alley” because it’s battered by hailstorms more than anywhere else in the country. Some locations get 20 or more storms each year, most between May and June but also through October.
    There are also hail alleys in northern India, western Canada, China, Russia and northern Italy, according to the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory. The Canadian Hail Alley sits in Alberta, east of the Rocky Mountains. A common thread between the three regions appears to be a mid-latitude location on the downwind side of a large mountain chain.
    Reyes says his corn acreage is beyond salvage as grain, but he says they’re beginning to cut it for silage. “The main concern with it will be the nitrate levels, which may be pretty high,” he says. “Hopefully the process of ensiling it will cut out 50 percent of the nitrates, and hopefully it’ll take care of itself.”
    He says they’re chopping now, rather than waiting, because the plants are drying out. “We won’t have a good of quality feed because the plant will never mature with the damage,” he says.
    Mount also says there will be more silage put up in the area because of hail damage. “Some that was destined for grain will be put up as silage, where other fields they probably won’t even bother to chop,” he says. “Some guys have put the water back on to get some re-growth to chop, with a month and a half of growing season left.”
    In the alfalfa Reyes says they were unable to get a second cutting. “We’re working on a third cutting, and we won’t know about our hay supplies for winter until after we’ve got that in,” he says. “I’m sure we’ll have to buy some hay, and definitely some corn silage. We were expecting a 22- to 25-ton crop in our silage, and we’ll be lucky to get 11 tons. The hail cut the crop in half.”
    He says they’ll likely substitute for the missing silage with corn, fillers or purchased silage.
    Mount says he’s walked through some alfalfa pastures with a lot of broken stems. “The third cutting has been delayed, and some might not even take a third. If they didn’t have their second off yet, it got mowed down pretty good.”
    Reyes says his pastures also got hit pretty hard, with some of them mowed to the ground, and that he will also be short on pasture this fall.
    He estimates about 15 to 20 producers were affected by the hailstorm in the area, which only lasted around 15 minutes. “It started out really soft, like all hailstorms do, and it wasn’t really the hail that made the damage, but the strong winds. We could have gotten by with just the hail without the wind,” he says.
    Hail falls in paths known as “hail swaths,” ranging in size from a few acres to 10 miles wide and 100 miles long, according to the NOAA Laboratory. The largest hailstone recovered in the U.S. fell in Aurora, Neb. on June 22, 2003 with a diameter of seven inches and a circumference of 18.75 inches.
    About the additional challenges presented to their operation by the storm, Reyes says, “We survived 10 years of drought – we can survive one hail storm.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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