Shipping of yearling cattle out of Flint Hills grazing programs is underway, which is a week to 10 days ahead of a normal schedule.

Farmers and ranchers in Texas and most of southwestern Oklahoma considered 2011 a failure several weeks ago, but enough rain fell on eastern Oklahoma and eastern Kansas during the spring months that a few timely rains could still make this a decent year. Pastureland and crops in eastern Kansas were in average to good shape up until temperatures jumped higher with no rainfall over the past 10 days.

Ben Allen, Chautauqua County, Kan., extension agent, says it has been at least four weeks since that area of the southern Flint Hills has received rain.

“We haven’t had any runoff rain this year. We had about three inches of rain in May and two inches in early June,” he said. “That kept the native grasses green, but it produced only limited growth.”

The annual movement of cattle from pasture to feedlots has begun. “Yearlings on an early-intensive grazing program would normally be shipped around July 15th,” Allen says. “We’re beginning to see some movement already and that is due to dry weather.”

Osage County, Okla., extension agent Will Cubbage, says he has also witnessed cattle beginning to be shipped off grass. “These dry conditions are pushing the tolerance levels of the native grass. I’m sure gains have been next to zero on cattle the past week so they are just going ahead and shipping them.”

Neither of those extension agents were aware of any reported cattle gains from those grazing programs this year due to the limited number of cattle that have been shipped.

In addition to a lack of forage, cattlemen in the area also need to be aware of water quality issues. Specifically, blue-green algae can occur in stagnant ponds during hot, dry, calm days. Animals may die suddenly after drinking water contaminated with the algae.

Oklahoma officials have already warned residents about blue-green algae at four major reservoirs in the state. Officials posted warnings at the lakes about swimming or boating in certain areas due to the possibility of the toxic blue-green algae that can nausea, rashes and respiratory illnesses in people.

Allen said a few cases of poisoning from the blue-green algae were reported in his area last year, with a couple of animal deaths. The conditions favorable to the algae are found in ponds that are low on water and that may have a high amount of animal waste.