Oklahoma cattle producers and farmers planting winter wheat are reporting significantly improved conditions over last year, especially following a week of quality rain across much of the state that has greened-up pastures and is generating optimism for farmers and ranchers who are preparing to move into the cooler season.
Oklahoma State University Extension livestock specialist Derrell Peel says drought conditions have decreased significantly in recent weeks as a result of good rains in most areas of the state. According to the latest Drought Monitor released Oct. 27, only 2.8 percent of Oklahoma farm and ranch country rated at D2 (severe drought) with no areas reporting D3 or D4 conditions (extreme and exceptional conditions respectively).
"Last week’s crop progress report showed that 85 percent of Oklahoma wheat was planted with 62 percent emerged. Both of those figures are slightly lower than the five-year average for that date. Recent rains will result in rapid wheat development and some wheat will be ready for grazing soon." Peel said in his weekly market comments.
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North-Central Oklahoma suffered the greatest from dry conditions through most of the summer months, but Peel says after an inch or more of rain that fell there last week, farmers feel growing optimism for recently planted winter wheat fields. Up until late Oct rains, the area had suffered nearly 50 days with little or no rainfall.
In addition, Peel says the rains have greatly improved forage conditions.
Much improved forage situation
"In the final report for the growing season, Oklahoma range and pasture conditions are rated about average for this time of year compared to non-drought years, with 78 percent of pasture rated fair to excellent." Peel said. "In many cases, pastures still have some green and quality is good. Estimated 2015 total hay supplies in Oklahoma are 7.3 million tons, the third largest annual hay supply ever for the state, and the largest since 2007."
Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist, says many Oklahoma cattle producers will be using wheat pasture as a major source of winter feed. But he warns if wheat pasture is the predominant feed in the diet of mature beef cows, providing a mineral mix to their diet will be helpful in preventing grass tetany once calving season begins.
While grass tetany isn't normally a major problem in Oklahoma, cases have been reported in the past. Caused my magnesium deficiency, it typically occurs during early lactation in mostly older cows, especially if they have been grazing lush, green wheat fields. Selk says high levels of potassium in forages can decrease absorption of magnesium and most lush, immature forages are high in potassium.
High levels of nitrogen fertilization have also been shown to increase the incidence of tetany although feeding protein supplements has not.
Cattle market recovery
Peel says cattlemen remain careful but optimistic after exceptional drought conditions in recent years forced a majority of producers to downsize their herds. While markets have been somewhat unstable in recent weeks, he says feeder and cattle markets are still recovering from the heavy-weight market purge through much of October.
"Steer slaughter for the past four weeks is up nearly 8 percent from the same period one year ago, suggesting progress in cleaning up heavy weight fed cattle. However, carcass weights have not yet confirmed a peak and the latest steer carcass weights are another record at 930 pounds." Peel explained.
He says in Oklahoma, prices for feeder steers under 600 pounds have recovered 9 percent to 10 percent from the early October lows. But he warns that calf and stocker prices in November will be a balance between supply and demand conditions.
"Calf and stocker prices in November will be a balance between supply and demand conditions. On the demand side, additional general cattle market recovery is likely with stronger feedlot demand to replace inventories, and stocker demand likely will be boosted by better wheat pasture conditions," he added.
Peel says the fall run of calves typically adds supply pressure to feeder markets. October auction market totals in Oklahoma were down 5.3 percent year over year, which may indicate that some feeder marketings were delayed during the market slump. Replacement heifer demand is an unknown that may temper seasonal feeder supplies.
"This complex set of supply and demand factors makes it very challenging to anticipate feeder prices in the coming weeks. On balance, I would give slightly better odds for steady to somewhat higher prices through November, but the downside risk remains," Peel estimates.