Cow-Calf Corner is a weekly newsletter by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency
Nov. 2, 2020
“We interrupt this La Niña with an early winter storm”
Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
An unexpected arctic storm last week extended south across the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas and across much of Oklahoma. The storm brought timely and much-needed moisture in the midst of ongoing La Niña conditions that have kept the southern part of the U.S. warmer and drier than usual.
Seasonal forecasts are for drought conditions to persist in current drought areas and expand eastward across the central and southern plains. While La Niña conditions are expected to provide the baseline weather tendencies through the winter, sporadic intrusions of arctic storms may provide intermittent chances of precipitation and will likely result in considerable weather variability.
The storm last week brought precipitation in a variety of forms ranging from snow in the Panhandle to significant ice accumulations in central Oklahoma with widespread cold rain and intermittent sleet. Electric power is still out for many thousands of customers almost a week after the storm hit and several more days will be needed before power is fully restored. Cleanup will continue for many weeks and the tree scars will be apparent for years to come.
Cattle were exposed to cold, wet conditions for several days last week. Cold stress reduces productivity and increases health problems. These challenges can be particularly acute for calves in the process of weaning or newly weaned and for receiving stocker cattle that are already stressed. Cattle with persistent wet hair coats have significantly increased maintenance requirements and often require more and better quality feed. The storm no doubt affected feedlot cattle across a broad swath of cattle feeding country and may impact feedlot performance and timing in the coming weeks. Across Oklahoma, several auctions closed last week and pushed cattle prices lower yet.
The upcoming Drought Monitor this week will reflect the precipitation from the storm. The Oklahoma Mesonet shows that the bulk of the state received from 1.5 to over 5.0 inches of moisture in the last seven days. The precipitation may revive chances for wheat pasture and winter grazing. The latest crop progress report showed that 86 percent of Oklahoma wheat was planted, ahead of the five-year average of 82 percent for that date. Wheat emergence was reported at 74 percent, well above the five-year average of 66 percent. Prior to the storm, 25 percent of Oklahoma wheat was rated as poor to very poor. Wheat condition should improve as the precipitation is reflected in the crop in subsequent reports. The wheat crop is generally poised to respond quickly to the timely precipitation. Stocker demand may pick back up somewhat in the coming weeks with improvement in the wheat crop. Seasonally large runs of feeder cattle are expected in the coming weeks and numerous value-added preconditioned calf sales are scheduled in the next five weeks.
Improved stocker prospects combined with a sharp recovery in Feeder futures markets last week may mean that the seasonal low in calf and stocker prices is past. March Feeder futures, the reference for winter grazing programs, increased by roughly $8/cwt last week, making stocker budgets look more attractive again.
Breeding cows and heifers on wheat pasture
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Many areas of Oklahoma received some moisture this past week, giving hope that wheat pasture may be available for use as a winter feed. Some producers may have questions about the utilization of wheat pasture for growing replacement heifers or cows before, during, and after the breeding season. Anecdotal reports of unsatisfactory breeding performance occasionally surface when replacement heifers have been exposed to bulls or AI while grazing wheat forages. Therefore an Oklahoma State University study was conducted to compare reproductive performance of heifers grazing wheat pasture before, and during breeding, with heifers grazing wheat pasture until approximately three weeks before breeding.
In each of two years, 40 spring born Angus and Angus crossbred heifers were placed on wheat pasture in December and randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups in mid-March. Group one (Wheat Pasture; n=20) remained on wheat pasture (mean crude protein = 26.6 %) through estrus synchronization and fixed-time AI. Group two (Dry Lot; n=20) was placed in drylot and had free choice access to a corn-based growing ration (11.1% crude protein) through estrus synchronization and fixed time AI. The heifers were inseminated on about April 5 both years. Heifers were exposed to fertile bulls starting 10 days after fixed time AI for 45 more days. Fixed time AI conception was determined at 32 days after AI by ultrasonography.
The percentage of heifers cycling at the start of estrous synchronization was 75% and 55% for Wheat Pasture and Dry Lot, respectively. Weights of Dry Lot heifers were slightly heavier than Wheat Pasture heifers (897 vs. 867 pounds) at the time of AI but were similar at ultrasound (917 vs. 910 pounds). Conception rate to Fixed time AI was similar for Wheat Pasture (53%) and Dry Lot (43%) and final pregnancy rate was similar for Wheat Pasture (95%) and Dry Lot (88%). Reproductive performance of heifers grazing wheat pasture during estrus synchronization and Fixed time AI was similar to heifers consuming a corn-based growing diet. Source: Bryant, et al. 2009 Oklahoma State University Animal Science Research Report.
Kansas State University looked at grazing wheat pasture, before and during breeding with first and second calf cows. They compared the fixed time AI and final pregnancy rates for cows on wheat with cows on native rangeland. Five years of data were summarized in the 2011 KSU Cattlemen’s Day Report. The AI pregnancy rates were 51.7% and 57.7% for wheat pasture and rangeland respectively. The final pregnancy rates after a natural breeding clean up breeding season were very similar at 94.4% and 95.9% respectively. They concluded: “This trial showed no evidence that the high protein diet of wheat pasture reduces pregnancy rate of beef cows. However, because timing of the breeding season remained constant, protein content of the diet may have moderated prior to breeding.” Source: Johnson, S.K. 2011 KSU Cattlemen’s Day Report.