Sept. 5, 2017
Is it stocker time?
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Labor Day seems a bit early for many producers to be talking seriously about fall and winter stockers. However, a wet and cool August opens up a broader set of stocker possibilities than is typical in Oklahoma. Most of the state received upwards of double normal precipitation in August and forage is green and growing most everywhere. Below average temperatures in August resulted in cool soil temperatures that allow winter wheat to be planted at any time. Some wheat was planted by the end of August and much more ground is ready to plant. The one caution that producers are reporting is that armyworms are already active and are a threat to newly emerged wheat as well as other forages.
Early planted wheat along with other forages may add 30 or more days to the front end of winter grazing. At the same time, expectations for 2018 wheat prices are dismal enough that some producers are beginning fall grazing with an intent or high likelihood of grazing out wheat next spring. A full graze-out adds another 75 or so days to the winter dual-purpose grazing period. Together, these conditions suggest the possibility of 220 or more days of grazing compared to a more typical 120 day winter grazing period.
With a significantly longer grazing season ahead, producers can evaluate a wider range of grazing options than normal. An early start to fall grazing means that a single set of stockers may be too big by the end of graze-out. Producers may consider purchasing very lightweight stockers (which bring additional management challenges) or consider two sets of stockers between October and May. This would imply selling the first set in January and starting with a second set for graze-out. Two sets of stockers allow producers to consider a wider range of purchase weights and perhaps avoid demand bunched around lightweight stockers. It is common in the fall to see prices for typical stocker sizes (400-525 pounds) to be high relative to heavier stockers (550-650 pounds). Current prices for stocker cattle suggest that a wide range of purchase weights (400-650 pounds) all offer roughly the same value of gain and similar potential for returns.
Stocker purchase prices typically decline seasonally a bit from September into October. Last week’s Oklahoma average price of $170.88/cwt for 475 pound, med/large, number 1 steers would be expected to decrease $2-4/cwt. in the next month based on average seasonal patterns. However, stocker prices in Oklahoma are notoriously variable in September. In years with good early forage conditions (such as this year), stocker prices may show little seasonal decline and may even increase into October. Conversely, a larger 2017 calf crop implies bigger fall runs that may keep seasonal pressure on prices, especially into later October and November.
Combinations of stocker production alternatives mean that stockers could be marketed from January through May, 2018. Currently, Feeder futures are trading in a narrow range from about $141/cwt. in January to $139/cwt. for March and May. Depending on expected sale weights and timing along with other budget factors, it appears that there is potential to manage risk on winter stockers and protect reasonable return possibilities.
Sorting cows for more efficient winter supplemental feeding
by Dr. Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Planning now for winter feeding can provide an opportunity to become more efficient in the use of our winter feed dollars. Thoughtful sorting of the cow herd during the fall months as the summer grasses become dormant, allows the cows to be supplemented through the winter according to their needs.
First calf heifers have historically been the toughest females on the ranch to get rebred. They are being asked to continue to grow, produce milk, repair the reproductive tract, and have enough stored body energy (fat) to return to heat cycles in a short time frame. Two-year old cows must fill all of these energy demands at a time when their mouth is going through the transition from baby teeth to adult teeth.
If these young cows are pastured with the larger, older cows in the herd, they very likely will be pushed aside when the supplements are being fed in the bunk or on the ground. The result of these adverse conditions for young cows very often is a lack of feed intake and lowered body condition. Of course, lowered body condition in turn results in delayed return to heat cycles and a later calf crop or smaller calf crop the following year.
North Dakota State University data of commercial cow herds recorded over a 21 year period illustrated the differences in size and body condition of very young cows and the very mature (10 year old+) cows. The North Dakota data clearly show that the average 2 year old is about 20 percent smaller than her full grown herd mates. There is little wonder that the younger cows get pushed away from feed bunks, hay racks, or supplements fed on the ground. The results of the size differences and the need to continue to grow are manifest in the lower body condition scores noted in the very young cows. The very old cows are experiencing decline in dental soundness that make it difficult for them to maintain feed intake and therefore body condition. Over the 21 year data set from North Dakota, the 2-year old cows and the 11 year-old and older were significantly lower (0.3 or more units) in body condition score than middle-age cows.
Consequently, it makes sense to sort very young cows with the very old cows and provide them with a better opportunity to compete for the feed supplies. By doing so, the rancher can improve the re-breeding percentages in the young cows and keep the very old cows from becoming too thin before culling time.
From this data they formulated three logical groups of cows to be pastured together for feeding efficiency:
Group 1: The two-year old first calf heifers. They have higher nutrient needs than other cows that are not growing. They are too small to compete with larger, older, boss cows for the supplement. Some second-calf three year olds that are low in body condition also may fall into this group.
Group 2: The old cows (10 years and older) and the 2nd calf heifers. In addition, this group should include any of the middle aged cows that were thin and needed extra supplement. Cows that were Body Condition Score (BCS) 4 or less would be considered.
Group 3: The remaining cow herd. This is the group that is mature in size and in adequate condition to enter the winter feeding period as at least a BCS 5.
Many small beef herds may not have the pastures available to sort the cows into three groups. If only two groups are possible, putting groups 1 and 2 together would be the logical other combination.
Ranchers, then want to be certain that the feeding program is adequate to have cows in each group calve as BCS 5 or 6 next spring.
Cow-Calf Corner is a weekly newsletter from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.