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Reuilding Drought Conditions Threaten Oklahoma Cow Herd Expansion

07:08AM Mar 06, 2014

Although data indicate the rebuilding of Oklahoma’s beef cow herd is happening, herd numbers are still down 10.5 percent from Jan. 1, 2011, meaning the process is only in the beginning stages.

"Herd expansion plans currently in place are the result of significantly improved drought conditions in the second half of 2013," said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist. "Though 2013 started dry, much of the state received close to average precipitation during the year."

Forage conditions improved and the final weekly crop condition report in late November had range and pasture conditions rated 40 percent fair and 40 percent good to excellent. Hay production in Oklahoma recovered significantly in 2013 compared to the two previous years, with hay stocks on Dec. 1, 2013, up 34 percent compared to the same time in 2012.

"Improved range and pasture conditions and having sufficient hay on hand to support increased cow and heifer inventories really helped out," Peel said.

Oklahoma was among a few states on Jan. 1, 2014, showing clear indications of beef cow herd rebuilding, up 2.9 percent this year compared to last year – an increase of 51,000 head – and second only to Kansas and Missouri in terms of absolute increase in cow numbers.

The Oklahoma inventory of beef replacement heifers was up 45,000 head, a 16.1 percent increase this year compared to last year and the largest state increase in the nation.

"Unfortunately, drought conditions have re-emerged across central and eastern Oklahoma," Peel said.

In early February, pasture and range rated good to excellent had dropped from 40 percent to 24 percent. The areas of D3 and D4 drought have increased to 12.5 percent since the beginning of the year.

"As it is still February, dry conditions now are not a major problem," Peel said. "However, if the conditions persist or expand, the threat will increase dramatically."

This winter has included more cold and snowy weather compared to recent years, resulting in increased hay and supplement feeding. Potentially, this may lead to relatively small hay carryover despite increased hay supplies this winter.

In addition, water reserves are still well below normal in many cases and critical shortages could develop quickly with warm and windy weather this spring.

"Producers should do a feed assessment and develop a plan for the spring that includes decision points triggered by developing forage and water conditions," Peel said. "Profit margins are usually tight for most producers, making it vitally important they be aware of economic and environmental factors that can have a significant effect on their operation’s bottom line."

The most recent Climate Prediction Center drought forecast through May is somewhat encouraging. It suggests drought may moderate in central and eastern Oklahoma, though drought is expected to persist in the western and Panhandle portions of the state.

Peel said the extent of drought conditions – or the lack thereof – in Oklahoma and other regions could affect cattle markets and will determine the cattle production and marketing alternatives available to producers in 2014.

Cattle and calves are the number one agricultural commodity produced in Oklahoma, accounting for approximately 50 percent of total agricultural cash receipts, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service data.

Source: Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension