Source: Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency | April 15, 2019
Better spring forage conditions in Oklahoma
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock marketing specialist
It was just about one year ago when western Oklahoma experienced wildfires that burned about 400,000 acres and caused millions of dollars in damage. However, conditions were significantly different in April, 2018 with 34.85 percent of the state in extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) drought conditions and just 41.72 percent of the state with no drought conditions. The latest Drought Monitor for the same period this year shows Oklahoma with 95.94 percent of the state with zero drought conditions.
That said, wildfire risks will be higher in the next few weeks with warmer temperatures and strong spring winds. The southeastern two-thirds of the state received significant rain this past weekend but most of the northern third of the state has had below average rainfall the past 30 days and dangerous conditions may develop quickly. Nevertheless, overall wildfire threats are lower compared to last year. Oklahoma is greening up rapidly, if a bit later than usual, as volatile weather has yet to be consistently warm. Soil profiles are saturated in most of the state and all that lacking is warm weather for ample spring pasture and hay growth.
With generally good summer forage prospects, stocker cattle demand remains strong with spring calf price peaks continuing into mid-April. Lightweight feeder cattle prices have yet to confirm a seasonal price peak and may hold steady or even push slightly higher in the next 2-3 weeks. In Oklahoma, five-weight steer prices typically drop roughly 7 percent between the spring peak into July and another 4 percent to fall lows in October. Large frame no. 1 steers (500 pounds) are currently priced about $186/cwt., suggesting an October low price of roughly $166/cwt.
Seven to eight-weight feeder steer prices have increased seasonally from the February low into April and typically increase seasonally to a summer peak in July before declining in the second half of the year. Current steer prices are roughly $148/cwt. (750 pounds, large, number one), suggesting a peak July price of roughly $153/cwt. and an October price near $148/cwt. Futures markets are more optimistic than that for feeder markets with current Feeder futures prices for the summer and fall well above these levels. This may provide a pricing opportunity for summer or fall feeder sales.
Fed cattle prices may have peaked on schedule in late March at nearly $129/cwt. However, continuing impacts of winter weather will help support fed prices for some time yet and may provide an opportunity to push to higher seasonal peaks. If it happens, that would likely occur soon…in the next two or three weeks. Beef production thus far this year is down 0.7 percent year over year but weekly beef production the last four weeks has averaged 1.8 percent higher year over year. Beef production typically increases from the first quarter to the third quarter of the year. The seasonal increase in beef production may be tempered somewhat in the coming weeks by lower carcass weights and other lingering impacts of severe weather this winter and spring. Normal seasonality of fed prices indicates that fed prices will likely drop to +/- $120/cwt. for fall lows.
Changing the calving season (different answers to the same question)
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
The onslaught of a wet, cold winter, several blizzards, and unbelievable flooding has caused some Midwest cattle producers to re-examine the timing of future calving seasons. There will be popular press and social media articles suggesting that calving seasons need to be moved to late spring and early summer. For those regions of the country prone to late winter, spring snowstorms and blizzards, moving the calving season out of these stressful weather events makes sense.
If the calving season is moved to May and June, then the breeding season must be moved to August and September. In the upper Midwest, breeding seasons in the hotter months of summer may be feasible. Although, 90 to 100 degree days may occur, nighttime temperatures will often cool to 70 degrees or lower. However in Oklahoma and Texas, in August daytime temperatures often reach near or above triple digits and night time lows may only cool about 80 degrees.
A high pressure heat dome may lock in very hot days and warm nights for an extended period of time. The number of hours each day that the temperature is above the thermal neutral maximum (80 degrees in the bovine) is sizeable. There is little if any opportunity for the cow to dissipate heat in this scenario. Therefore, heat stress becomes a biological nemesis to good reproductive performance in late summer months in Oklahoma.
Research conducted several years ago at Oklahoma State University (Biggers, et al, 1986 OSU Animal Science Research Report) illustrated the possible impact of heat stress of beef cows on their reproductive capability. They found that heat stress of beef cows from day 8 through 16 after breeding affected the weights of the conceptus (embryo, fluids, and membranes) and the increased body temperature may have formed an unfavorable environment for embryo survival. The percentage of pregnancies maintained throughout the week of severe heat stress was considerably reduced (83 percent for non-heat stressed versus 50 percent for severely heat stressed).
Also research (Meyerhoffer, et al 1985. J. Animal Science 60:352) has clearly shown that semen quality of heat stressed bulls will be significantly reduced and will take nearly 8 weeks after the heat stress to fully recover. When reduced fertility in male is multiplied by reduced embryo survival in the female, percentage calf crops must decline.
Heat stress causes a percentage decrease in pregnancy percentages. It is not an “all or nothing” situation. Spring breeding seasons starting in May and finishing in late June should avoid most of the heat stress in Oklahoma. This results in February and March calving seasons. Fall calving (with breeding seasons beginning in late November and ending in January) allow for fertilization and early embryonic survival when heat stress is not a factor. These calves arrive starting in early September.
The best choice for calving seasons will be different for the different climates and weather patterns in the United States.