Oct. 2, 2017
Oklahoma wheat stocker update
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Wheat pasture has developed relatively slowly in Oklahoma so far this fall, despite the early potential that seemed to exist after the cool, wet August in the state. USDA-NASS reported that 16 percent of Oklahoma wheat was planted by the last week of September, down from a five-year average of 25 percent for that date. A couple of factors contributed to the delay in wheat planting. Dry top soil developed in early to mid-September, especially across the northern and northwestern parts of the state, causing some producers to delay planting. A continuing threat from armyworms also prompted some producers to delay planting. Most of Oklahoma, particularly in the wheat belt, has received significant rain recently and wheat planting will likely accelerate into early October. Subsoil moisture is generally good and established wheat should develop rapidly. Wheat is still mostly on track for a normal beginning to wheat grazing in late November to early December.
Stocker cattle prices in Oklahoma have decreased only slightly through September, showing a less than seasonal price decline. Prices have been variable from week to week with fluctuating weather conditions and futures market volatility. September prices for stocker steers and heifers averaged 14 to 18 percent higher than last year despite a 20 percent increase in feeder cattle auction volume in September compared to one year ago. It certainly appears that stocker demand remains strong. The abundance of available pasture and hay, likely has supported stocker demand with continued expectations of good wheat grazing yet to come. It appears that significant numbers of stockers are being received and started in a variety of backgrounding programs in anticipation of winter pasture. Stocker prices may weaken seasonally with the biggest calf runs expected in the next month to six weeks but the seasonal declines may be less than typical with continued strong stocker demand.
A strong rally in Feeder futures since late August offers improved winter stocker profit potential. At current levels, March feeder futures would allow a 750 pound steer to be priced at roughly $150/cwt. in Oklahoma. A 475 pound steer at today’s prices would have a March 1 breakeven of $130-$137/cwt. at 750 pounds depending on pasture and other costs. Such opportunities to price in winter stocker margins are rare and generally fleeting. Frankly, it is hard to justify current feeder futures prices for the spring based on cattle market fundamentals and speculative moves in futures are wildly unpredictable. Producers should act promptly if these futures price levels are attractive. Remember that futures have been notoriously volatile in recent years and feeder futures can move $11.25/cwt. in two days of limit moves. While no major cattle market weakness is foreseeable at this time, general expectations are for modestly lower cattle prices in 2018 on continued growth in cattle supplies and beef production. There is clearly more downside risk than upside potential from current levels.
Using wheat pasture as a winter supplement for cows
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Assuming more fall rainfall comes to the Southern Plains, wheat pasture will again be a key source of protein and some energy for many cow herds in this part of the United States. If that rainfall occurs, grazing of wheat usually will start in late November or early December.
Limited grazing of wheat pasture has proven to be the best and also more efficient approach for utilizing this high-quality forage with mature beef cows. The protein requirements of a dry cow can be met by allowing her to graze on wheat pasture for one day and returning her to dry pasture grass or hay for 2 – 3 days. A pattern of one day on wheat and 1 day off, should meet the protein needs of the same cow after calving. Producers must be reminded that adequate forage must be available in the dry grass pastures or in the form of hay to provide much of the energy needs of the cows in the “off” days.
The day on wheat pasture should be defined as that amount of time required for the cow to graze her fill of wheat forage (3 – 5 hours) and not a full 24 hours. This short time on wheat allows the cow to gather adequate amounts of protein to carry her over the ensuing days on dry grass or hay. A 3 – 5 hour grazing limit helps to avoid the unnecessary loss of valuable forage due to trampling, bedding down and manure deposits. Under normal weather conditions in the fall, enough wheat forage should be accumulated by early December to supply the protein needs of about 1 to 1.5 cows per acre throughout the winter months when limit grazing is practiced.
Producers who decide to use continuous grazing programs, should watch out for the possibility of “grass tetany.” Grass tetany will normally strike when older cows are grazing small grain pastures in the early spring and the danger will tend to subside as hot weather arrives. A mineral deficient condition primarily due to calcium, and to a lesser degree to magnesium, is thought to be the major factor that triggers the disorder and normally affects older cows that are nursing calves under two to three months of age. Dry cows are seldom affected.
When conditions for occurrence of tetany are suspected, cows should be provided mineral mixes containing 12 to 15 percent magnesium and be consumed at 3 to 4 ounces per day. It is best for the supplements to be started a couple of months ahead of the period of tetany danger so that proper intake can be established. Because tetany can also occur when calcium is low, calcium supplementation should also be included. Cows grazing lush small grain pastures should be fed mineral mixes containing both calcium and magnesium. If signs of grass tetany are noted, call your local large animal veterinarian immediately. Symptoms of tetany from deficiencies of both minerals are indistinguishable without blood tests and the treatment consists of intravenous injections of calcium and magnesium gluconate, which supplies both minerals.
C0w-Calf Corner is a weekly newsletter from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.