Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Oklahoma has been impacted by drought more than any other state, by several measures. The Jan. 1 inventory of all cattle and calves in Oklahoma was down 11.5 percent year over year, from a 2022 total of 5.2 million head to 4.6 million head. The decrease of 600,000 head was double the second largest all cattle decrease in Nebraska. The decrease in Oklahoma cattle inventories included decreases in the beef cow herd, replacement heifers, feeder supplies and feedlot inventories.
The Oklahoma beef cow herd decreased by 140,000 head in 2022 (largest state decrease in the country) to a Jan. 1 total of 1.981 million head, a 6.6 percent decrease year over year and the lowest beef cow inventory since 2016. Oklahoma is still the second largest beef cow state (after Texas), but now is just fractionally larger than Missouri, which was unchanged in the last year. The liquidation in Oklahoma is not over. Drought conditions continue in Oklahoma with the latest Drought Monitor showing 94.84 percent of the state abnormally dry (D0) or worse, including 56.71 percent of the state in D3 and D4 levels of drought. In the first five weeks of 2023, the combined Oklahoma auction volume of cull cows is up 49.2 percent year over year. Hay supplies are very tight in Oklahoma, as in many other places, and some producers may face additional culling to get through the winter.
Replacement beef heifers in Oklahoma were down 2.5 percent year over year, a smaller decrease compared to the 5.8 percent decrease nationally in beef replacement heifers. Oklahoma remains the number two beef heifer state (after Texas) and ahead of South Dakota. The comparatively modest decrease in beef replacement heifers suggests that Oklahoma producers are putting the highest priority on retaining heifers over other classes of cattle despite unfavorable conditions.
Oklahoma inventories of steers (>500 lbs.), other heifers (>500 lbs.) and calves (<500 lbs.) were all down with steers down 23.8 percent year over year, other heifers down 27.8 percent from last year and calves down 4.4 percent year over year. The Oklahoma feedlot inventory was down 11.1 percent from the previous year. The estimated supply of feeder cattle outside feedlots in Oklahoma (steers + other heifers + calves – feedlot inventory) was down was down 18.5 percent to the lowest level since 2014. The feeder supply estimate includes cattle grazing winter wheat pasture, which is sharply reduced this year. A recent tour in central Oklahoma showed many wheat fields with poor or emerging stands while others had full stands but have much less growth than normal for this time of year. Only a small percent of the wheat fields had cattle turned out for grazing and those were stocked significantly less than normal.
Drought conditions in the next 4-5 months will be key and will set the stage for the remainder of the year in Oklahoma. If prospects for significant improvement in pasture and hay conditions are not in place by May, the state likely faces additional beef cattle liquidation in 2023.