In South Texas, weather patterns made a swing to the dryer side during October.

November arrived with mild and comfortable temperatures, but the dry cold fronts with high winds have taken the green out of the pastures. A couple inches of rainfall will be most welcome by Lower Coastal Bend agricultural producers, particularly by those wanting to plant winter grazing patches and wheat fields.

Cattle producers have pastures with ample grass, but forage quality has diminished greatly without any significant rainfall in the Lower Coastal Bend in October. Despite the absence of a killing frost in deep South Texas, most of the cattle country has taken on a frost-bitten look. As a result, cattle have dropped a notch or two in their body condition during the past six weeks. That is very evident on cows with larger nursing calves.

Hay producers welcomed the drying trend that started in mid-September. It allowed them to start harvesting the exceptional grass growth that resulted from one of the wettest summers experienced in decades. What looked like a good chance for a final pre-frost cutting in early November has diminished without a good inch or more of rainfall in October that was needed to keep hayfields green and growing.

Some hay producers reported that those cuttings in late September and early October produced exceptional yields. That has added to what was ample hay inventories stockpiled to meet the typical winter-feeding needs in the Coastal Bend area. As a result, sales of hay have been slow to non-existent in the region so far this fall.

Folks who buy hay must realize that it costs a lot more to produce high-quality hay than low-quality hay. It is understandable that the buyer tries to get the best value for the feed dollar, but remember that both quantity and quality can vary greatly in a hay roll. Most often, purchasing bargain-priced hay without any knowledge of its feeding quality and nutritional content my save $5 to $10 per roll, but it may cost you in the long run with declining weight in breeding cattle that can result in lower conception rates and longer calving intervals.

Today, many cattle herds that were calving in late winter and early spring, before the drought of 2006, have now calved in late summer and early fall. Feeding low-quality hay to lactating cows without proper amounts of supplementation is certain to result in lower gains by nursing calves and reduced performance of the herd.

When the rising cost of harvesting and stacking the current hay crop is combined with significantly higher fertilizer cost, it is easy to see why hay producers are no longer in a position to sell grass hay for less than $40 per roll. When the cost of land payments, taxes and weed control are factored with the labor and equipment charges, producers selling at $40 per roll price may not be meeting their breakeven cost.

The South Texas hay market has always been driven by a "feast or famine" supply and demand relationship. With reluctance on the part of hay buyers to pay for quality hay with high nutritional content, it remains a "buyer-beware" market environment. Buyers should not only check the hay density and texture but also examine the bale height and width. The quantity of hay in a bale can vary by as much as 20 to 30 percent. Nutritional analysis for hay samples can be run for less than the cost of a bag of range cubes.

The Soil, Water and Forage Testing Lab at Texas A&M University - College Station accepts samples from the public and will return test results via fax or e-mail if turnaround time is a consideration. Sample collection instructions and data forms needed to submit samples to the Texas A&M laboratory can be obtained from your county extension office. They can help with the interpretation of test results and also have information of feeding and nutritional requirements for various classes of livestock.

Keep those fingers crossed that the areas of South Texas that have turned dry will be getting some relief in the form of a slow, soaking rain in the near future.