Dec. 7, 2015
Rain, ice and ugly trees
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
The Thanksgiving week storm hit parts of central Oklahoma hard with heavy ice accumulations that did significant damage and caused power outages for several days. The hardest hits areas were mostly west of Oklahoma City along the I-40 corridor. The storm created numerous cattle management challenges and disrupted movement of animals to markets. Cattle auction volume was lower last week and some sales were canceled due to the weather.
My travels last week took me through part of the region impacted by the ice and the broken trees and downed limbs documented the impact of the storm. Oklahoma is justly famous (or infamous!) for variable and extreme weather; including tornados, ice storms, severe thunderstorms, floods and wildfires. Tornados and ice storms, in particular, leave a record of damage on trees that lasts for many years. It seems impossible to keep pretty trees in this state. Those familiar with the state can drive across the region and read the scars like a living history of severe weather, as in: “there was the tornado of…” or “there was the ice storm of …” Oklahoma could be appropriately known as the Land of Ugly Trees.
The ice storm was part of a bigger weather event that brought rain to much of Oklahoma including flooding rains in south-central Oklahoma and northern Texas. In southwest Oklahoma, I traveled through Altus where much of the wheat in that area is very small; the result of delayed planting and/or emergence due to earlier dry conditions. Heavy recent rains, followed by warmer weather will boost wheat growth quickly, although flooded fields actually threaten to drown small wheat in some instances. Farther north, towards I-40, the wheat is significantly bigger and more is being grazed by both cows and stockers. The wheat, and the cattle, generally appear to be in very good condition.
Across I-40, north and east of Clinton, the wheat in central Oklahoma is bigger yet and growing rapidly. A larger proportion of the wheat is being grazed. Still, the amount of wheat grazing appears to be less than forage conditions would support. The recent moisture jump-started some delayed wheat and some conservatively stocked wheat pastures may now be understocked with the wheat forage growth outpacing grazing. Stocker demand has been muted this fall by slow developing wheat; limited cattle numbers and extreme cattle market volatility. Some additional stocker cattle are likely to dribble out to wheat pasture through December and perhaps after Jan. 1 as producers assess the value of wheat forage for graze-out relative to harvesting the wheat for grain.
Taking advantage of good weather
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
These pleasant December days (after the rain and ice storms of the previous week) could be put to good use in preparation for the spring calving season. Now is a good time to check the pens, calving stalls and the equipment that will be used in February and March. Do a “walk through” of pens, chutes, and calving stalls. Make sure that all are clean, dry, strong, safe and functioning correctly.
Many producers use the calving shed or stalls for storage the “other” ten months of the year. Now is an excellent chance to clear out the items that are in the way and not needed for assisting the cow or heifer in labor. This is much easier to do on a sunny afternoon than on a cold dark night when you need them in a hurry.
Now is also a good time also to begin the practice of “nighttime feeding.” It is generally accepted that adequate supervision at calving has a significant impact on reducing calf mortality. On most ranching operations, supervision of the first calf heifers will be best accomplished in daylight hours and the poorest observation takes place in the middle of the night.
The easiest and most practical method of inhibiting nighttime calving at present is by feeding cows late in the day or at night. The physiological mechanism is unknown, but some hormonal effect may be involved. In the most convincing study to date, about half of 1331 cows on 15 farms in Iowa were fed once daily at dusk; 85 percent of their calves were born between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
The other half of the cows were fed in the morning and approximately 50 percent calved in daylight and the others between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. On many large ranches, it is physically impossible to feed all of the cows at or near dusk. In those instances, the ranch manager should plan to feed the mature cows earlier in the day, then feed the first calf heifers at dusk. The heifers, of course, are the group of females that are of greatest need of observation during the calving season. Many producers have big round bales of hay available 24/7. Delivering the supplement late in the day seems to have a similar impact. Oklahoma State University records have indicated that 70 percent of cows supplemented at 5:00 p.m. calved in daylight hours.
Various means have been employed to effectively reduce animal loss at calving time. Experienced personnel should be available to render obstetric assistance and neonatal care to maximize percentage calf crop weaned in the cattle operation. Currently, evening feeding of cattle seems to be the most effective method of influencing parturition timing so assistance can be available during daylight hours. Unfortunately, a percentage of cows will still calve in the middle of the night. Therefore, those 2 a.m. heifer checks are still warranted.
“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.