Drought conditions across Oklahoma are significantly improved compared to three months ago. At the end of 2012, all of Oklahoma was in D2-D4 drought with 37 percent of the state in the D4 (Exceptional) drought category and 95 percent of the state in the D3 andD4 categories. The most recent Drought Monitor shows that all of Oklahoma is still in D1-D4 drought but less than 10 percent of the state is in D4 and 53 percent in the D3 and D4 categories. However, the improvement may be temporary.
Cool weather has slowed forage development this year compared to last year but things are greening up nevertheless. Most of Oklahoma has received moisture in the last few weeks that ensures that some green up will happen. However, most of the moisture came more than a month ago and moisture totals across much of Oklahoma have been well below normal for the last 30 days. Some areas of the eastern part of the state continue to receive moisture and drought conditions continue to moderate. There has been some recharge of stock ponds in parts of the southeastern region of the state. However, the driest regions across the north and western parts of the state have received little moisture in the last two weeks. Drought conditions will worsen again very soon without additional rain.
April, May and June are critical periods for pasture and hay production. Loss of forage production during this period will jeopardize cattle prospects for the remainder of the year. Many producers have squeaked through the winter with minimal hay supplies and have no forage reserves at this time. However, the minimal moisture available at this time is almost worse than nothing. Producers who graze early pasture growth run the risk of further damaging already stressed pastures. Pastures must have some time to grow and recuperate before more grazing pressure is applied. Producers need to think beyond the next 30 days and develop a plan for the rest of the year. Additional herd culling is a painful prospect to contemplate but it is important to realistically assess the situation and make needed decisions early rather than drag on and risk more long term damage to the forage resources. Early weaning calves is a viable strategy for many producers that can reduce the pressure on feed needs by selling additional cows soon and developing a grazing or drylot program to hold calves for additional weight gain.