Improving forage conditions provide more options for Oklahoma cattle producers.
By: Don Stotts, Oklahoma State University
After briefly stalling under hot, dry conditions in early July, timely rains since then have helped recharge soil and subsoil moisture levels in Oklahoma, leading to improved forage conditions for many cattle producers.
The majority of the state received between one and nearly five inches of rain in late July. Over the past 60 days, parts of Oklahoma have received between four and nearly 17 inches of rain, which is 100 percent to 200 percent of normal.
According to the latest Drought Monitor, 60 percent of the state is in moderate or worse drought conditions (D2-D4), down only slightly from 65 percent in mid-May. However, the percent of the state in extreme or worse drought (D3-D4) is at 23 percent, down from 50 percent in mid-May and, of that, the area of exceptional drought (D4) is now less than 5 percent, down from 30 percent before the rain started in May.
"Waves of timely rainfall this summer combined with mostly moderate temperatures have allowed significant improvement of soil moisture conditions," said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist. "Pasture and range conditions show similar improvement with the percent poor and very poor now at 19 percent, compared to 44 percent in May."
Currently 45 percent of state pastures are rated good or excellent compared to 22 percent in May. The percentage of pastures in fair condition is mostly unchanged since May.
"Improved forage conditions present several cattle and forage management and marketing opportunities this fall," Peel said. "Abundant and high-quality forage for the remainder of summer and into fall should allow spring-born calves to reach normal weaning weights, and perhaps even a bit more, to take advantage of the value of extra calf weight gain."
Peel added normal seasonality of prices would imply calf prices will decrease roughly 7 percent between summer highs and October-November weaning.
Still, tight cattle supplies have trumped seasonal price patterns this year with price increases that have been stronger than seasonal during the first half of the year.
"This potentially may limit seasonal price pressure on calves this fall, though I expect the value of extra calf weight to remain strong," Peel said.
Late summer moisture provides an opportunity to fertilize warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass and stockpile high-quality pasture that can reduce forage costs this fall and into winter.
"Though hay production should be good this summer, grazing is always significantly cheaper than feeding hay to cows," Peel said. "Producers can use summer grazing management to extend grazing this fall and reduce hay costs."
Depending on the quality, any extra hay that may be available this winter can provide flexibility to retain calves or replacement heifers, feed thin cull cows or be sold as a cash crop.
In addition, winter wheat grazing will be very much on the minds of some producers in about a month. Peel said the current surface and subsoil moisture conditions are encouraging.
"Unless August turns exceptionally hot and dry, it appears decent conditions for wheat grazing may happen this fall," he said. "Adequate moisture and moderate soil temperatures in late August and early September are ideal for early establishment of wheat for grazing. Should it happen, stocker demand will support calf prices amid limited cattle supplies this fall."
Additional information about management aspects relative to stockpiling and grazing bermudagrass pastures is available online at http://osufacts.okstate.edu by accessing OSU Extension Fact Sheet ANSI-3035, "Managing Bermudagrass Pasture to Reduce Winter Hay Feeding in Beef Cattle Operations."
Producers also may want to review OSU Extension Fact Sheet AGEC-249, "Stocker Cattle Production and Management Practices in Oklahoma."