Ice and freezing rain hard on cattle but leaves drought unscathed

Parts of the state received ice and freezing rain from the cold front that hammered much of the U.S. But the storm came and went without leaving enough moisture to relieve the drought conditions that have plagued agricultural producers for months in Texas, reported Texas AgriLife Extension Service agents.

Moreover, the cold weather further stressed livestock and their owners who have been forced to either reduce herd size or feed ever-dwindling hay supplies.

"Slightly colder temperatures highlighted this week, just as it did a large portion of the state," said Todd Beyers, AgriLife Extension agent in Lamb County , southwest of Amarillo. "We received minimal amounts of precipitation on Monday and Tuesday in the form of snow and ice, totaling about 0.1 inches. Winter wheat, oats and triticale could use more moisture. (Irrigation) pivots are running on most days, trying to provide enough forage for the stocker cattle that are turned out."

"Small-grain fields have temporarily greened up from last week's ice storm," said Gary Clayton, AgriLife Extension agent in Wise County , west of Denton. "However, ranchers are in dire need of stock water with little relief in sight."

"We received very frigid temperatures this week with a little bit of moisture," said Tommy Yeater, AgriLife Extension agent for Howard County in Big Spring. "Area farmers and ranchers are praying for a big rain to help get some moisture in the soil."

"The recent ice storm with a mixture of sleet has probably really helped the wheat crop and hurt what cotton was left," said Langdon Reagan, AgriLife Extension agent for Wilbarger County in Vernon. "About 0.4 inches of moisture fell across the county. Ice is thawing the last few days."

"The passing front brought less than 0.2 inches of moisture," said John Senter, AgriLife Extension agent in Mitchell County , west of Abilene. "Dry weather and extreme danger of wildfires continue to be utmost in the minds of producers."

"We did receive .03 inches of precipitation with most of it beginning as ice," said Shane McLellan, AgriLife Extension agent in Limestone County , east of Waco. "There is a shortage of round bales in the area. Hay that was bringing $40 a bale 30 days ago is now bringing $50 a bale."

"Rainfall was scattered to light this week, most coming in conjunction with an icing event," said Brian Triplett, AgriLife Extension agent for Smith County in Tyler. "(Total) rainfall was up to about 0.5 inches, but we are still about 2 inches behind for January."

The following summaries were compiled by AgriLife Extension district reporters this week:

COASTAL BEND: Continued dry conditions meant no recovery from drought. Temperatures were below normal. Moisture will be needed to fill the soil profile before spring planting can begin, and some growers were already looking at alternatives. Ranchers had to feed animals due to lack of forage.

EAST: Most of the region seriously needed rain. Tyler County has instigated a burn ban, and Newton County had several wildfires. Field preparation continued for spring planting despite dry conditions. Many producers collected soil samples. Feral hog activity continued to increase. Beaver damage also was reported.

FAR WEST: No moisture was reported. Pecan orchards were being pruned and hedged. Fall-planted onions and alfalfa remained dormant. Producers were preparing land for sowing of spring wheat. Cotton growers chopped stalks in preparation for the next planting. Wildfires remained a threat because of the extremely dry conditions. Several counties were under a burn ban. Most of the region's wheat is in dryland and needed rain. Some early planted wheat was dead or dying.

NORTH: A cold front brought freezing rain and sleet, and this moisture helped small grains and winter annuals, but more was needed. Winter wheat was in fair to good condition and 100 percent emerged. Some wheat is being top dressed. The cold and dry weather was hard on livestock, but cattle remained in fair to good condition thanks to heavy supplemental feeding by producers. The water supply for livestock was critically low. The pecan and cotton harvests were completed. A few green bugs were found in wheat fields. Feral hogs continued to plague producers. The range and pasture conditions varied from fair to very poor. Most winter pastures were in bad shape.

PANHANDLE: Some counties received a light snow, but the snow did not constitute enough moisture to offset dry conditions. Most winter wheat was still fair to good, but ratings of range and pastures declined to poor. Fieldwork, primarily the spreading of manure and compost, continued. Producers began fertilizing and irrigating wheat. Reports of green bugs in wheat increased. A few Russian aphids were also found. Cattle were in good condition but not gaining much weight because of colder weather.

ROLLING PLAINS: Ice covered nearly the entire region for days, but the moisture received as ice melted was minimal. Wheat needed a good rain soon. Without it, yields will be skimpy at best. Fields that were fertilized before planting were tolerating the dry weather better because of deeper roots, but even the deeper soil moisture was becoming depleted. Green bugs, oat bird-cherry aphids and Russian aphids began to take their toll on wheat fields. Winter grass is almost nonexistent, and many producers reported little or no hay left. Some producers said they have enough hay to last until March. Many stock water tanks were dry; others were dangerously low.

SOUTH: Soils remained dry. Temperatures were above average with cold nights. In the northern part of the region, potato planting was ongoing, but only oats under irrigation looked good. In the eastern part of the region, farmers were preparing for planting but were doing no work in the fields. In the western counties, cabbage and onions progressed well, and spinach producers prepared for a second harvest. Dryland sorghum producers began preparing seed beds, hoping enough rain will come in the next three to four weeks to allow planting. Some corn planting was under way in southern counties. Sugar cane, citrus and vegetable harvesting continued. Range and pastures remained extremely dry throughout the entire region. The danger of wildfire was high because of low humidity and high winds. Livestock producers were forced to choose between reducing the size of their herds or to continue to feed hay from rapidly dwindling supplies.

SOUTH PLAINS: The region received a trace of moisture in the form of a light snow and freezing drizzle. Extreme cold accompanied the storm. Soil-moisture levels remained very short to short. Cotton producers were working the ground, applying fertilizer and doing some pre-watering. Winter wheat was in very poor to poor condition and irrigation continued. Pastures and ranges were in very poor to poor condition. Livestock conditions were mostly fair to good with supplemental feeding continuing.

SOUTHEAST: Conditions were extremely dry and windy, with only about 0.3 inches of rain throughout January. The remaining winter annual grasses were grazed down, and there was no regrowth because of dry conditions. Hay consumption increased with cold weather. Moisture for row-crop planting was insufficient. There was a burn ban in effect for Chambers County. Most of the pastureland will take from one to three years to recover from the salt-water storm surge caused by Hurricane Ike. Livestock were doing well despite pastures being short. Burn bans have been in effect in some counties due to the drought and storm debris left by Ike.

SOUTHWEST: The soil profile was very dry. The region has remained dry since Sept. 9 when the last significant rainfall of 0.34 inch was received. Forage availability was almost non-existent. High, dry winds and very dry grass along roadways increased the risk of roadside and pasture wildfire. Ranchers provided heavy supplemental nutrition to their remaining livestock. Many stock tanks were bone dry. There will be only limited planting of spring dryland crops unless more moisture is received. The cabbage and spinach harvests continued. Potato planting was nearly completed. Spring onion plantings were down, but the crop was making good progress under heavy irrigation. The wheat crop will be sparse due to the drought.

WEST CENTRAL: Conditions continued to be very dry with extremely high danger of wildfires. A cold front with freezing rain came, but did not leave much moisture behind. Crops continued to decline. Only irrigated crops were growing. Range and pastures were very poor. Grazing remained limited, and hay supplies were short. Supplemental feeding of livestock increased, but livestock remained in poor condition.

TAGS: Management
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