March 5, 2018
Limited March wheat pasture run expected
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
For dual-purpose wheat production, First Hollow Stem (FHS) is the physiological signal in the wheat plant to remove cattle in order to preserve the wheat grain yield potential. In Oklahoma, the average date of FHS varies from year to year, by location and wheat variety but typically occurs from late February to mid-March. Because FHS represents a rigid deadline for termination of wheat grazing, a pronounced run of feeder cattle is often observed in Oklahoma auctions in March.
Increasingly dry conditions since last fall resulted in much less wheat pasture than normal in Oklahoma. Much of the wheat was delayed in germination or simply didn’t grow much due to drought. Fewer stockers were placed on wheat than normal and many of those that did graze were forced to move off wheat early due to lack of forage. The January Cattle report included an estimate of 1.5 million head of cattle grazing small grains pasture in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. This was down 17 percent from one year ago. More cattle have moved off wheat pasture since the beginning of the year. Oklahoma combined auction total volume was up 14.8 percent the first six full weeks of 2018. However, in the last two weeks of February, the combined auction volume was down 31.1 percent from the same period last year. It appears that relatively few stockers remain to be marketed in March.
Last fall, a number of wheat producers indicated intentions to graze out wheat due to dismal wheat prices. However, with much of the winter wheat belt firmly in the grip of drought and few stockers remaining on pasture, little wheat grazeout is likely this year. Unless it rains soon, wheat production prospects will decrease sharply and it is increasingly likely that wheat producers will terminate wheat and switch to a summer crop. Even if the wheat receives rain and begins to grow it is unlikely that many producers will purchase new stockers for grazeout.
Many of the stocker cattle that were or would have been on wheat pasture this winter are already in feedlots as evidenced by the large placements the last few months. Strong feedlot demand has kept stocker and feeder prices firm this winter. Oklahoma feeder cattle prices have followed seasonal patterns in January and February with calf and stocker prices increasing slightly while heavy feeder prices were steady to slightly lower seasonally. Feeder cattle seasonal prices differ by weight with lightweight feeder prices typically peaking in March and heavyweight feeders increasing from a February low heading towards a summer peak. In general, there is no reason to expect feeder markets not to follow seasonal tendencies. While there may be relatively fewer feeder cattle marketed in the March to May period, feedlot demand is likely to be somewhat muted as feedlots are quite full until some cattle are marketed. Thus, the overall demand/supply balance likely has not changed a great deal for the spring period.
Early spring nutritional challenges of spring-calving cows
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Late winter and early spring is the most challenging time of the year for the nutrition of the spring-calving beef cows. Unless cool season grasses are available, this is a season where maintaining or gaining body condition on spring calving cows is really quite difficult. Warm season grasses have not yet begun to grow. Dormant grass (what little is left) is a low quality feed. Cows cannot, or will not, consume a large amount of standing dormant grass at this time year. If the only supplement being fed is a self-fed, self-limited protein source, the cows may become very deficient in energy. Remember, the instructions that accompany these self-fed supplements. They are to be fed along with free choice access to adequate quality forages.
There is another factor that compounds the problem. A small amount of winter annual grasses may begin to grow in native pastures. These are the first tastes of green grass many cows have seen since last summer. The cows may try to forage these high moisture, low energy density grasses, in lieu of more energy dense hays or cubes. The sad result is the loss of body condition in early lactation beef cows just before the breeding season is about to begin.
Body condition at the time of calving is the most important factor affecting rebreeding performance of normally managed beef cows. Nonetheless, condition changes after calving will have more subtle effects on rebreeding especially in cows that are in marginal body condition. Body condition changes from the time the cow calves until she begins the breeding season can play a significant role in the rebreeding success story. This appears to be most important to those cows that calve in the marginal body condition score range of “4” or “5”.
An Oklahoma trial (Wettemann, et al., 1987 Journal of Animal Sci., Suppl. 1:63). illustrates the vulnerability of cows that calve in the body condition score of 5. Two groups of cows began the winter feeding period in similar body condition and calved in very similar body condition (average body condition score = 5.3 to 5.4). However, after calving and before the breeding season began, one group was allowed to lose almost one full condition score. The other group of cows was fed adequately to maintain the body condition that they had prior to calving. The difference in rebreeding rate was dramatic (73% vs 94%). Again this illustrates that cows that calve in the body condition score of 5 are very vulnerable to weather and suckling intensity stresses and ranchers must use good nutritional strategies after calving to avoid disastrous rebreeding performance.
Cows should calve in moderate to good condition (scores of 5 or 6) to ensure good rebreeding efficiency. Ideally, cows should be maintaining condition during mid to late pregnancy and gaining during breeding. The goal of the management program should be to achieve these body conditions by making maximum use of the available forage resource.
Continue feeding a source of energy, such as moderate to good quality grass hay free choice and/or high energy cubes until the warm season grasses grow enough to provide both the energy and protein that the lactating cows need. Yes, the feed is high-priced. But the cost of losing 21% of next year’s calf crop is even greater!
A long, difficult delivery of a calf will affect rebreeding of the cow
by Glenn Selk, OSU Emeritus Extension animal scientist
In addition to being the greatest cause of baby calf mortality, calving difficulty markedly reduces reproductive performance during the next breeding season. Cattle suffering from calving difficulty have been reported (Brinks, et al. 1973) to have pregnancy rates decreased by 14% and those that did become pregnant to calve 13 days later at the next calving. Results from a Montana study (Doornbos, et al., 1984) showed that heifers receiving assistance in early stage 2 of parturition returned to heat earlier in the post-calving period and had higher pregnancy rates than heifers receiving traditionally accepted obstetric assistance. In this study, heifers were either assisted about one hour after the fetal membranes (water bag) appeared (EARLY) or were assisted only if calving was not completed within two hours of the appearance of the water bag (LATE).
Heifers that were allowed to endure a prolonged labor (LATE) had a 17% lower rate of cycling at the start of the next breeding season. In addition, the rebreeding percentage was 20% lower than the counterparts (EARLY) that were given assistance in the first hour of labor. First calf heifers should deliver the calf in about one hour. The starting time is the first appearance of the water bag and ends with complete delivery of the calf. Mature cows, that have calved previously, should proceed much faster and should deliver the calf in about a half hour. The calves weaned the following year from cows that endured the long delivery weaned 46 pounds lighter than calves from cows with earlier re-breeding dates due to a shorter stage 2 of parturition.
Always check to be certain that cervical dilation has been completed, before you start to pull the calf. If you are uncertain about whether cervical dilation has taken place or if the calf is in a deliverable position, call your large animal veterinarian immediately. Prolonged deliveries of baby calves (in excess of 1.5 or 2 hours) often result in weakened calves and reduced rebreeding performance in young cows!
Cow-Calf Corner is a newsletter by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.