Oct. 19, 2020
Oklahoma forage conditions update
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
According to the Oklahoma Mesonet, the last thirty days are the sixth driest on record for this period in the state of Oklahoma. The situation is much more extreme in the western part of the state with the Panhandle, North Central, West Central and Southwest regions all reporting the driest total for this thirty-day period in 100 years of records.All of these regions reported less than 0.1 inches of rainfall for the period. Drought conditions have expanded rapidly across the state with the Drought Monitor showing 32% of the state in some level of drought (D1-D4) and another 27% of the state abnormally dry (D0). One month ago, in mid-September, just 17% of the state had D1-D4 conditions with another 9% abnormally dry (D0).
Deteriorating range and pasture conditions reflect the lack of rainfall. The latest conditions show that 13 percent of pastures are in very poor condition, up from 5% four weeks ago. Pastures in poor condition increased to 19% from 10% four weeks ago. Pastures in good to excellent condition dropped from 50% four weeks ago to 23% in the current data.
Winter wheat is an important winter forage in Oklahoma. The latest crop progress report shows that 69% of Oklahoma wheat is planted with 39% emerged, both ahead of the five-year average for this date. However, rapidly drying soil moisture conditions means that wheat growth will stall out very soon without additional rainfall. Wheat planted recently may not have sufficient topsoil moisture to germinate. Diminishing wheat pasture prospects is limiting stocker cattle demand for winter grazing and will impact cow-calf producers who count on wheat forage as part of winter feed supplies.
The October USDA-NASS crop production report included estimates for other hay and alfalfa hay production. The beef cattle industry in Oklahoma relies mostly on other hay, which is projected to be down nearly 14% from last year. Alfalfa hay, which makes up less than 13% of total Oklahoma hay production, is projected to be up about 7% year over year. In total, Oklahoma hay production is projected to be down nearly 12% in 2020. However, Oklahoma did have above average hay stocks at the beginning of the hay crop year on May 1.
With La Niña conditions firmly in place, warmer, drier winter weather is expected in Oklahoma. The Climate Prediction Center forecasts are for drought conditions to persist and expand eastward across the state through the winter. Eventually, declining water supplies may become an issue for cattle production, though I have not heard of major problems thus far. Current weather forecasts show limited prospects for rainfall in the next two weeks.
Drought conditions are no doubt adding to the seasonal pressure on feeder cattle and cull cow prices at this time of year. The dry conditions will likely keep cattle markets under pressure until Thanksgiving at least. Cattle producers should assess forage, feed and water supplies now and develop a plan for the coming months. It could be a long winter.
Management of cows with limited forage availability
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Some of the cow-calf producers of the Midwest and Southwest are going into winter with very limited hay supplies and standing forage. As they search for alternative methods to keep the cows in adequate body condition this winter, some were planning on wheat pasture that so far has not received enough rain to grow. Therefore, it has become time to look for Plan B (or C or D). Most of the alternatives after wheat pasture are not easy or they are inexpensive.
Information that may provide guidelines for alternative winter feeding methods can be found in an Oklahoma State University Extension Fact Sheet ANSI-3034 called “Management of Cows with Limited Forage Availability.”
In this fact sheet you will find:
- Culling suggestions (if that has not already been done);
- Recommendations about how much hay is needed, if it is to be purchased;
- Limit-feeding grain with limited forage available
- Suggested complete diets for cows fed in drylot
- Limit energy concentrate feeding management tips
- Limit feeding of hay
Some of the suggestions in the fact sheet require great skill and discipline on the part of the herd manager. Limiting the time that cows have access to the hay bales has been studied at a couple of upper Midwest land grant universities. The hay usage has been reduced in these studies with minimal impacts on cow weight change and condition change. However, it must be noted that high quality hay (ranging from 9.5% to 17% crude protein) was utilized in these studies.
Hay with lower protein content (less than 8% crude protein) could not meet the needs of third trimester cows if intake was restricted. Therefore, more supplemental feed would be required to help cows maintain body condition through the winter. Also remember that additional labor would be required to move cows each day to and from the hay feeding area. A summary of the studies on limit feeding of hay can be found in Dr. Britt Hicks newsletter written during the drought of 2011.
As you read the fact sheet (ANSI-3034) be reminded that feed handling equipment, feed bunks, and well-fenced lots or sacrifice pastures are necessary for many of these alternatives. Study the lesson extensively before undertaking some of these alternatives. The price of many grain-based diets must be considered as well as the management challenges. Read Oklahoma State University Extension Fact Sheet ANSI-3034 before winter sets in.