Jan. 22, 2018
Plan ahead for adversity
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Drought conditions in the U.S. have expanded rapidly in recent weeks. The latest Drought Monitor shows that 33 percent of the country is in some form of drought (D1-D4). This is the largest D1+ percentage since October 2015. Another 28 percent of the U.S. is abnormally dry (D0). Total U.S. hay production in 2017 was down 2.6 percent year over year. More troubling is the fact that Dec. 1, 2017, total hay stocks were down 10.0 percent compared to one year ago. These two factors individually are concerning and combined should cause the cattle industry to think about potential management implications over the coming weeks/months.
In Oklahoma, 100 percent of the state is abnormally dry (D0 or worse) with 84 percent of the state in some form of drought (D1 or worse). The bulk of the drought is D1 (Moderate, 36 percent) and D2 (Severe, 36 percent) with 12 percent D3 (Extreme) and no Exceptional drought (D4), currently. However, drought conditions have expanded and worsened quickly in recent weeks.
Dec. 1, 2017, Oklahoma hay stocks were down 15.8 percent year over year despite a 2.7 percent increase in total hay production in the state compared to 2016. Hay stocks are down in the region with decreased Dec. 1 hay stocks reported in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. New Mexico hay stocks were unchanged and Colorado reported a 6.1 percent year over year increase. However, combined hay stocks in Oklahoma and all states that border Oklahoma were down 15.7 percent on Dec. 1, 2017. These seven states accounted for 49 percent of the year over year decrease in December 1 U.S. hay stocks. Recent winter storms and extended cold weather have accelerated hay use in the region and have no doubt further drawn down hay stocks since Dec. 1.
One immediate problem is the lack of growth of winter wheat and other cool-season forages and the generally poor and deteriorating condition of those pastures. Some cattle have already been removed from pastures and more early marketings are likely in the coming weeks. Producers should make alternative plans for management and marketing of cattle currently grazing winter pasture. In situations where wheat has not been grazed, contingency plans for use of whatever forage is available may be needed if drought conditions persist and worsen.
Another immediate problem is the high wildfire threat that may persist for several more weeks. Although producers have limited ability to avoid wildfire threats, any possible preparedness is a good idea. Enhanced daily vigilance may help catch wildfires more quickly. Have any available equipment that can be used to fight fire available and ready for rapid deployment. In some cases plowing fire breaks around structures and hay piles may help reduce damage in the event of a wildfire.
Thinking farther down the road, producers should plan now for the possibility that current drought conditions get worse in the coming weeks. It’s important to assess forage supplies now and develop management and marketing plans in case drought conditions persist into spring. We know from bitter experience in 2011 how quickly devastating an early-onset drought can be. Drought contingency planning is like insurance: you hope you don’t need it but you cannot afford not to have it. If you wait until you have a problem, the available alternatives will be very limited.
Good records and visible identification can ease the pain of a disaster
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist and Gant Mourer, Oklahoma State University Beef Quality Enhancement specialist
Windy winter and spring days can cause wildfires to move rapidly across rangelands. Also, late winter and springtime is thunderstorm season across the Plains. Spring storms occasionally bring severe winds or even tornadoes. Cleaning up after a severe storm or wildfire is difficult enough. Losing valuable cattle brings additional financial hardship to the situation.
Cattle loss can occur in several scenarios: Livestock may be killed, lost, or stolen during a stormy situation. Branding today is still the most recognized and accepted means of indicating ownership of cattle in North America. Eventually, other methods such as electronic “chipping” may become the standard for identification, but until this procedure becomes a more economical and practical alternative, producers will continue to utilize the time-tested, permanent, and universal method of branding.
State registration of your brand is not required by law in Oklahoma. However, recorded brands take precedence over similar unrecorded brands when questions of ownership arise. Registered brands are prima facie evidence of ownership in a court of law. Brands are recorded by The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association (OCA). For more information contact OCA at (405) 235-4391 or www.okcattlemen.org.
A brand is defined as a permanent mark not less than three inches in length or diameter and burned into the hide with a hot iron. Freeze branding is also a recognized form of legally identifying animal ownership in Oklahoma. Cattlemen can read more details about hot iron and freeze branding by downloading the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet ANSI-3255 Livestock Branding in Oklahoma. Producers should follow Beef Quality Assurance Guidelines when choosing locations of hot iron brands.
An accurate accounting of livestock and property is essential to a cattle operation’s storm preparedness. Keep a CURRENT inventory of all animals and the pastures where they are located. Individual animal ID tags on all animals serve several purposes, but can become extremely valuable if cattle become scattered or stolen. During the spring calving season, update these records frequently to reflect the newborn calves that are arriving.
If these records are computer-based, consider having a back-up copy stored at a neighbor’s or a relative’s house. These can be emailed to a relative or trusted neighbor to insure that a digital copy is always available. Handwritten records can be photocopied and placed in two different locations. We do not like to think about the “unthinkable” situation of a direct hit on our home or livestock buildings, but tornados and wildfires occasionally do destroy these dwellings. After the disaster is over, that second set of records could prove to be very inexpensive and very helpful.
Finding and storing the contact information of several hay suppliers could be very useful if the wildfire destroys your own hay as well as the standing forage in pastures. Knowing that hay of acceptable quality is available to purchase in an emergency can be very reassuring.
Cow-Calf Corner is a newsletter by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.