April 2, 2018
Drought advances in the High Plains
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
The latest Drought Monitor shows that drought continues to worsen in the southern High Plains. Across the continental U.S., 0.55 percent of the country is in D4 (Exceptional) drought. The majority of that area is in Oklahoma, where D4 makes up 14.79 percent of the state, focused in the northwest and panhandle areas. The D4 region also includes portions of southwest Kansas and the northeast Texas Panhandle. A growing region of D3 (Extreme) drought conditions covers much of western Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, southwest Kansas and extends westward to include northern New Mexico, Arizona, southern Colorado and portions of Utah.
According to the Oklahoma Mesonet system, the Panhandle region of Oklahoma, which includes five counties in northwest Oklahoma and the panhandle, are, for the last 120 days, the driest on record in the entire data period since 1921. The region has received 0.32 inches of rain (nine percent of normal) since Dec. 3, 2017. This is followed by the West Central region of the state, another six counties, with the second driest 120 day interval since Dec. 2. This region has received 1.21 inches of rain, 22 percent of normal for the period. Nearly as bad are the North Central region (eight counties) with the ninth driest period and the Southwest region (eight counties) with the eleventh driest for this time period.
In contrast, the Southeast region of the state (five counties bordering Arkansas and northeast Texas) is currently experiencing the eighth wettest 120 day period since Dec. 2, with 22.5 inches of rain, 153 percent of normal precipitation. The distance from the closest edges of the Southwest and Southeast regions is less than 170 miles. Clearly a wide range of conditions exist across Oklahoma, with a correspondingly wide range of implications for cattle and forage production in different parts of the state.
The drought has significantly altered winter stocker cattle production and marketing this year. In the last six weeks from mid-February to the end of March, combined auction totals in the state were down 16.7 percent year over year. This is the typical time period for marketing stockers from dual-purpose winter wheat grazing, the so-called “Wheat Pasture Run.” In contrast, the three weeks prior to that time period, from late January to mid-February, saw a 21.9 percent year over year increase in auction volume. The early marketing of winter grazing cattle has affected the timing of feedlot placements and has implications for seasonal feedlot marketings in the coming months. Large feedlot placements in recent months may be tempered by less than typical placements in March, April and May.
Comparing weaning dates for fall calving cows – different answers to the same question
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Producers with fall-calving herds have traditionally weaned the calves at 9 to 10 months of age. When forage growth is limited due to drought, questions arise about the feasibility of weaning the calves at an earlier date. The effect on the cow as well as weaning weight of the calf must be considered when the impact of the weaning date is considered.
Oklahoma State University animal scientists evaluated weaning dates of 158 Angus fall-calving cows over a 4 year period. Cows were allowed to nurse their calves for about 210 days (April Weaning) or 300 days (July Weaning). All cows calved in September or October and were weaned in mid-April (April Wean) or mid-July (July Wean). April-weaned young cows had greater re-breeding percentages (98.4 percent versus 89.3 percent) than July weaned young cows. However, there was no advantage in the re-breeding performance of April-weaned mature cows compared to July-weaned mature cows (90.2 percent versus 96.7 percent). April-weaned cows were heavier and fleshier at calving than July weaned cows.
Calves weaned in July were 90 days older and 204 pounds heavier (642 lb versus 438 lb) when weaned than were the April-weaned calves. The April-weaned calves were allowed to graze native pasture after weaning and weighed 607 pounds in mid July. For most years, it appears more advantageous to delay weaning of calves born to cows 4 years or older to July while maintaining April weaning for cows 3 years of age or younger.
On-going drought conditions (or burned pastures) in some areas of the Southern Plains very well may suggest the earlier weaning date could be considered for all ages of cows. In those areas of Oklahoma that have received adequate rainfall this winter and spring, the answer may be different. In those regions, the prospects of good forage growth would suggest that the later weaning date would result in heavier sale weights of calves and still excellent re-breeding of adult cows. Source: Hudson and co-workers. Journal of Animal Sci. 2010 vol. 88:1577.