June 17, 2019
Green grass and high water
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
I have just made my periodic trek from Oklahoma to western Montana. The many miles (nearly 1600 miles!) provide an opportunity to see conditions across a wide swath of country. There are no major drought conditions in the U.S. though emerging dry conditions are evident in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. Most of the country has abundant and sometimes excessive moisture.
As I left Oklahoma, thunderstorms brought wheat harvest to a halt once again as frequent rains persist. The Kansas wheat crop looked in good condition with harvest a little ways away yet. Overall wheat crop conditions are good with winter wheat crop conditions nationwide last week reported at 64 percent good to excellent with another 27 percent in fair condition.
In Nebraska, the Platte River remains swollen and farmland along the river shows corn of various heights reflecting delayed planting in some cases. The North Platte River likewise is running full — not flooding it appears — but carrying lots of water. Field after field of hay production was underway in western Nebraska with a variety of round bales, big square bales and small square bales being produced. Considerable concern has been expressed around the country this year about delayed hay production and reduced hay quality due to persistent moisture.
Eastern Wyoming was as green as I have ever seen this time of year. The ranges look excellent. In the latest Crop Progress report, Wyoming reported just one percent poor and very poor range and pasture conditions with 76 percent in good to excellent condition. In Wyoming, babies abound now with a parade of cows and little calves and sheep and lambs along with many newborn pronghorn antelope along Interstate 25.
Nationwide, just 7 percent of range and pastures are reported poor and very poor, less than half of typical for this date. Regionally, the West, Great Plains and Southern Plains regions all report significantly better than average pasture and range conditions and only the southeast has a significantly elevated percentage of poor and very poor pasture conditions.
Montana is very green as well and the rivers are running high. The Yellowstone River, major tributary to the Missouri, is very full and uncharacteristically muddy now compared to more typical conditions in the land of big sky and blue water. At Three Forks, Montana, the headwaters of the Missouri are formed from the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers. All were very full as the Missouri River begins the long journey to join the Mississippi at St. Louis.
Aside from the pervasive green conditions, the biggest impression this time of my trip from Oklahoma to Montana was the swollen condition of all the rivers. It is apparent from the levels of the upper Missouri, the Yellowstone, and the North Platte and Platte Rivers that flooding challenges along the Mississippi River will persist for some time. What an unusual year!
Schedule the “preg” check of replacement heifers now
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus extension animal scientist
For many years, in June, cow-calf producers are reminded of the need to schedule pregnancy checking of the spring-calving replacement heifers.
Many Oklahoma ranchers choose to breed the replacement heifers about a month ahead of the mature cows in the herd. In addition, they like to use a shortened 45 to 60-day breeding season for the replacement heifers. The next logical step is to determine which of these heifers failed to conceive in their first breeding season. This is more important today than ever before.
As the bulls are being removed from the replacement heifers, this would be an ideal time to call and make arrangements with your local veterinarian to have those heifers evaluated for pregnancy in about 60 days. In two months, experienced palpaters should have no difficulty identifying which heifers are pregnant and which heifers are not pregnant (open). Those heifers that are determined to be “open” after this breeding season, should be strong candidates for culling. Culling these heifers immediately after pregnancy checking serves three very economically valuable purposes.
1) Identifying and culling open heifers early will remove sub-fertile females from the herd. Lifetime cow studies from Montana indicated that properly developed heifers that were exposed to fertile bulls, but DID NOT become pregnant were often sub-fertile compared to the heifers that did conceive. In fact, when the heifers that failed to breed in the first breeding season were followed throughout their lifetimes, they averaged a 55% yearly calf crop. Despite the fact that reproduction is not a highly heritable trait, it also makes sense to remove this genetic material from the herd so as to not proliferate females that are difficult to get bred.
2) Culling open heifers early will reduce summer forage and winter costs. If the rancher waits until next spring to find out which heifers do not calve, the pasture use and winter feed expense will still be lost and there will be no calf to eventually help pay the bills. This is money that can better be spent in properly feeding cows that are pregnant and will be producing a salable product the following fall.
3) Identifying the open heifers shortly after (60 days) the breeding season is over will allow for marketing the heifers while still young enough to go to a feedlot and be fed for the choice beef market. “B” maturity carcasses (those estimated to be 30 months of age or older) are very unlikely to be graded Choice and cannot be graded Select. As a result, the heifers that are two years of age or older will suffer a price discount. Feedlot buyers generally will not risk buying heifers that will be over two years of age after being fed long enough to grade choice. If we wait until next spring to identify which 2-year-olds did not get bred, then we will be culling a female that will be marketed at a noticeable discount compared to the price/pound that she would have brought this summer as a much younger animal.
Certainly the percentage of open heifers will vary from ranch to ranch. Do not be concerned, if after a good heifer development program and adequate breeding season, that you find that 10% of the heifers still are not bred. Resist the temptation to keep these open heifers and “roll them over” to a fall-calving herd. These are the very heifers that you want to identify early and remove from the herd. It just makes good economic business sense to identify and cull non-pregnant replacement heifers as soon as possible.