Source: The Cow/Calf Corner newsletter from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service
Aug. 4, 2014
Forage conditions continue to improve in Oklahoma
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
More rain and moderate temperatures reignited forage growth in Oklahoma in the last half of July. After briefly stalling under hot, dry conditions in early July, timely rains the past two weeks have recharged surface soil moisture and contributed to improving subsoil moisture conditions. The majority of the state received between one and nearly 5 inches of rain in late July. In the past 60 days, which captures most of the rain that began the third week of May, the entire state has received between 4 to nearly 17 inches of rain, which is 100 to 200 percent of normal for nearly all parts of the state.
According to the latest Drought Monitor, 60 percent of the state is in moderate or worse drought conditions (D2-D4), down only slightly from 65 percent in mid-May. However, the percent of the state in extreme or worse drought (D3-D4) is at 23 percent, down from 50 percent in mid-May and, of that, the area of exceptional drought (D4) is now less than 5 percent, down from 30 percent before the rain started in May. Waves of timely rain this summer combined with mostly moderate temperatures have allowed significant improvement of soil moisture conditions.
Pasture and range conditions show similar improvement with the percent poor and very poor now at 19 percent compared to 44 percent in May. Currently 45 percent of state pastures are rated good or excellent compared to 22 percent in May. The percentage of pastures in fair condition is mostly unchanged since May.
Improved forage conditions present several cattle and forage management and marketing opportunities this fall. Abundant and high quality forage for the remainder of summer and into fall should allow spring born calves to reach normal weaning weights and perhaps a bit more to take advantage of the value of extra calf weight gain. Normal seasonality of prices would imply that calf prices will decrease roughly seven percent between summer highs and October/November weaning. However, tight cattle supplies have trumped seasonal price patterns this year with price increases that have been stronger than seasonal in the first half of the year and may limit seasonal price pressure on calves this fall. The value of extra calf weight should remain strong through the fall.
Late summer moisture provides an opportunity to fertilize warm-season grasses such as Bermuda and stockpile high quality pasture that can reduce forage costs this fall and into winter. Though hay production should be good this summer, grazing is always significantly cheaper than feeding hay to cows and producers can use summer grazing management to extend grazing this fall and reduce hay costs. Depending on the quality, any extra hay that may be available this winter can provide flexibility to retain calves or replacement heifers, feed thin cull cows or be sold as a cash crop.
Winter wheat grazing will be very much on the minds of some wheat producers in about another month. The current surface and subsoil moisture conditions are encouraging. Unless August turns exceptionally hot and dry, it appears that decent conditions for wheat grazing may happen this fall. Adequate moisture and moderate soil temperatures in late August and early September are ideal for early establishment of wheat for grazing. Should it happen, stocker demand will support calf prices amid limited cattle supplies this fall.
Growing bred replacement heifers
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
The strong cattle prices have encouraged more producers to develop replacement heifers to add to their current cow herd. Bred replacement heifers that will calve in January and February need to continue to grow and maintain body condition. Ideally, 2-year old heifers should be in a body condition score 6 at the time that their first calf is born. This allows them the best opportunity to provide adequate colostrum to the baby, repair the reproductive tract, return to heat cycles, rebreed on time for next year, and continue normal body growth. From now until calving time, the heifers will need to be gaining 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per head per day, assuming that they are in good body condition coming out of summer.
Heifers will need supplemental protein, if the major source of forage in the diet is bermudagrass or native pasture or grass hay. If the forage source is adequate in quantity and average in quality (6 – 9 percent crude protein), heifers will need about 2 pounds of a high protein (38 – 44 percent CP) supplement each day. This will probably need to be increased with higher quality hay (such as alfalfa) or additional energy feed (20 percent range cubes) as winter weather adds additional nutrient requirements. Soybean hulls or wheat mids may also be used to insure adequate energy intake of pregnant heifers.
Wheat pasture (if adequate rainfall produces growth) can be used as a supplement for pregnant replacement heifers. Using wheat pasture judiciously makes sense for pregnant heifers for two reasons. Pregnant heifers consuming full feed of wheat pasture will gain at about 3 pounds per head per day. If they are on the wheat too long the heifers can become very fat and may cause dystocia (calving difficulty). Also the wheat pasture can be used for gain of stocker cattle or weaned replacement heifers more efficiently. If wheat pasture is used for bred heifers, use it as a protein supplement by allowing the heifers access to the wheat pasture on at least alternate days. Some producers report that 1 day on wheat pasture and two days on native or bermuda will work better. This encourages the heifers to go rustle in the warm season pasture for the second day, rather than just stand by the gate waiting to be turned back in to the wheat. Whatever method is used to grow the pregnant replacement heifers, plan to have them in good body condition by calving so that they will grow into fully-developed productive cows.
“Cow/calf Corner” is a weekly newsletter edited by Dr. Glenn Selk, Extension cattle specialist emeritus at Oklahoma State University with contributions from additional OSU Extension specialists.