COLLEGE STATION — Rain came to large parts of Texas, an early Thanksgiving feast for already planted winter pastures, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
Though welcome, the rain came too late for drought-hammered summer pastures, many of which are in sad shape, according to AgriLife Extension county agent reports.
For example, before the rain, Pasquale Swaner, AgriLife Extension agent for Falls County, near Waco, reported that while “driving throughout the county, pastures are the worse than anyone can imagine. A large portion are just grazed to dirt.”
However, the rain will certainly help winter pastures, and eventually it will be good for warm-season pastures too, said Dr. Vanessa Corriher, AgriLife Extension forage specialist in East Texas.
“For pastures that have been grazed down, it’s going to take them a long time to recover,” Corriher said. “Most of those forages, our warm-season perennials, are going into dormancy as we get cooler temperatures. We’re not going to see any recovery until we get into spring.”
But for many of those producers who planted winter pastures earlier, the rains came just in time, she said.
“Whether it’s a cool-season annual ryegrass, or some small grains or any cool-season legume, the moisture will help those forages to potentially provide some grazing,” she said.
Though it’s highly recommended to fertilize winter pastures, the timing is a bit off, Corriher said. Her standard recommendation is to wait until around the middle of November, but after the first freeze to ensure all warm-season pastures have entered dormancy. East Texas hasn’t had any frosts yet.
“And it’s a better idea to get the nitrogen out before we’ve had a rain, but of course, sometimes we can’t anticipate that next rainfall,” she said. “But if you have some winter pasture that’s coming up, and you are anticipating some more rain, fertilization would be a great idea for optimal production.”
Some producers were holding off planting because of lack of moisture, but it’s a bit too late to plant now. For East Texas, Corriher doesn’t recommend planting any winter forages past about Nov. 15.
“There are some producers, who I’ve visited with recently, who are looking at planting winter pastures, primarily annual ryegrass,” she said. “Realize, though, that planting at a later date will result in (forage) production later in the season, and not necessarily when it’s needed.”
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries on Nov. 21:
Central: Though rain was forecast for the region, not much was received. Warm weather stimulated the growth of winter annuals, but not enough to relieve drought-caused forage shortages. Pastures were in the worse many have ever seen, with a large portion just grazed down to dirt. People were buying hay and feed to try to carry their livestock through tough times.
Coastal Bend: Dry conditions persisted, accompanied by warm temperatures, high winds and no rain. Many producers passed on planting small grains due to drought. Some late season hay was being baled, but yield is well below normal. Livestock producers continued to supplement cattle with hay and protein, or heavily culled herds at the prospect of feeding hay all winter long.
East: The region received rain, light in most places but with as much as 2 inches in some counties. The rain helped raise soil-moisture levels but not offset months of drought. Winter forages greened up but showed little growth. Producers continued to purchase hay outside of the state. Much of the hay has been of low quality. Armyworms were reported. Feral-hog damage reports continued to increase.
Far West: A cold front brought some trace moisture to parts of the region, but not enough to even settle the dust, and conditions remained dry with extremely high wildfire danger. Cattle were on supplemental feed and consuming large amounts of minerals. Producers continue to wean and background late-calving herds. Some were are also shipping previously backgrounded calves and open cows. Hay was nearly impossible to find, and terribly expensive when it was available. Fall-planted onions were dormant, and alfalfa was going into dormancy. Pecan shucks were opening. Early pecan varieties such as Pawnees and Rincons were already being harvested. The sorghum harvest was ongoing. Winter wheat in Upton County was showing good growth. The preliminary cotton harvest report from Ward County was about two bales per acre. Howard County cotton farmers finished harvesting. Producers took only about 600 bales to the gins this year, compared to an average of around 60,000. Rangeland and pastures were in extremely poor condition. Wild-dog packs killed more than 100 sheep and goats during the last two months in Ward County.
North: Many counties received substantial rains, but soil-moisture levels remained short. However, there was enough rain to germinate winter wheat, and other small grains and winter pastures were expected to benefit as well. Producers continued to look for hay to buy, and some were still culling herds. More rain was needed to fill the stock ponds, many of which were extremely low or completely dry. Feral hogs continued to be a major problem.
Panhandle: Temperatures were near-average with high winds during most of the reporting period. Most counties continued to report soil moisture levels as being very short. The cotton harvest and planting of wheat were ongoing. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to very poor condition, with most counties reporting very poor. Some stocker cattle were being placed on wheat. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle, with some herds being liquidated.
Rolling Plains: Temperatures cooled down and the region received its first hard freeze. Trees seemed to drop their leaves overnight. With high winds and no row crops, dust filled the air. Some of winter wheat fields were blown out last week and replanted, but with the continuing winds, producers were worried fields may get blown out a second time. Wheat that made it up was in fair to good condition but needed more moisture. Peanut growers were nearly finished harvesting, but reported lower grading nuts and lighter yields. Livestock were in poor to fair condition as ranchers continue to provide supplement feed.
South: All counties reported 40 percent to 80 percent short to very short soil-moisture levels with the exception of Zavala County, where soil moisture was at 100 percent adequate. There were isolated showers in some counties. Atascosa and Zavala counties reported about 0.5 inch, and La Salle County from 1 inch to 2 inches. The rains improved soil moisture, rangeland and pastures somewhat, and helped fill stock tanks. Supplemental feeding was steadily increasing as ranchers continued to search for hay for winter feeding. Cattle body-condition scores were mostly fair. Though prices were going down at auction barns, Webb County ranchers continued culling cattle. In Atascosa County, 70 percent of peanuts were harvested. In Frio County, most of the winter wheat and oats crop planting was finished. In Zavala County, dryland oats and wheat fields were submerged after heavy rains, and the fresh-market spinach and cabbage harvests were ongoing. Also in that area, cotton gins were still running. In Cameron and Hidalgo counties, farmers continued irrigating sugarcane, corn and other vegetables. The corn was tasseling and in good condition. In Starr County, growers were preparing to harvest fall row crops.
South Plains: The region remained dry for the most part. High temperatures ranged from upper 50s to low 70s with lows in the 30s and 40s. There was a hard freeze Nov. 17 as temperatures dipped down to 22 degrees in Lubbock County. The freeze helped further dry down remaining cotton. Most farmers were wrapping up harvest and most gins were keeping up with the harvest. Ginning this year was predicted to be completed by early December. Farmers continued to plant winter wheat. The sorghum harvest was nearly completed. Pasture and rangeland remained very dry, and producers were still providing supplement feed to cattle.
Southeast: Rainfall varied across the region. Walker County got from 1.3 inch to 6 inches. Burleson County reported from 0.3 inch to 3.2 inches, which helped raise stock-tank levels. Liberty County reported very little moisture. Brazoria County reported only warm, windy weather with earlier-seeded ryegrass pastures still in need of rain. In Liberty County, the ratoon rice harvest was mostly completed. Livestock producers continued with supplemental feeding of cattle. Ponds levels declined in some areas, but either held steady or were improved in areas that received rain.
Southwest: The region received from 0.75 inch to 4 inches of rain, but extreme drought conditions continued in most areas. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed to cattle. Most producers had reduced stocking rates by about 50 percent. The pecan crop was reported as “marginal’ due to drought. Wheat and oat stands were thinning out due to low moisture.
West Central: A weather front brought cooler temperatures and high winds with freezing conditions reported in some areas. Dry conditions continued. The harvesting of irrigated cotton was complete with below-average yields reported. Winter wheat planting was mostly complete. About half of the winter wheat crop was already planted but in poor condition. All wheat already planted was expected to be used for grazing. Rangeland and pastures continued to decline. Livestock were stressed even though ranchers continued heavy supplemental feeding. Hay was in very short supply and very expensive. Some livestock producers further culled herds. Ranchers that still have some cattle were trying to hold onto them in hope that conditions will improve by spring. Some native pecans were damaged by freezing temperatures.