Oklahoma beef cow numbers fell a modest 1.3 percent in 2012 to1.754 million head. USDA’s Cattle report included revisions to the 2012 numbers which included increasing the January 1, 2012 estimate of Oklahoma beef cows to 1.778 million head. With these revisions, it now appears that the loss of beef cows in 2011 was 238,000 head, down 11.8 percent from the January 1, 2011 total. The latest inventory of beef replacement heifers were down sharply at 12.5 below the revised 2012 figure. The inventory of beef replacement heifers was 280,000 head, which represents just under 16 percent of the beef cow herd. This is the lowest replacement heifer percentage in Oklahoma in more than 20 years. Relative to the national numbers, it appears that Oklahoma managed to hold onto more beef cows in 2012 but kept fewer potential replacement heifers. This will affect how Oklahoma is poised for developments in 2013.
Critical drought conditions continue in Oklahoma, with the entire state in D2-D4 categories (Severe to Exceptional) on the Drought Monitor. 90 percent of the state is rated D3 or D4, Extreme or Exceptional drought. Mesonet data for Stillwater indicates that total rainfall for the 28 month period since October 2010 is over 31 inches less than normal. Total rainfall received is 62 percent of normal for the period and in the last 28 months, only six months have had average or greater monthly rainfall totals. Soil moisture is severely depleted across much of Oklahoma. Oklahoma entered this winter with 69 percent of pastures and ranges in poor or very poor condition. Total hay production in Oklahoma the last two years has been 63 percent of average leading to December, 2012 hay stocks estimates that are also 63 percent of average, the lowest state level since 1984. Most of Oklahoma has a Palmer Drought Index rating of -3 to -3.9 which indicates that 3 to 12 inches of rain are needed, depending on the location, to bring the index to a level of -0.5.
For many cattle producers, lack of water is a more critical factor than feed and forage availability. Dry ponds and cattle stuck in the mud trying to reach low water are two common problems reported across Oklahoma. Some producers that have been relying on rural water districts to water livestock are being restricted to household use only because of low water supplies in those systems. The stock water situation means that it is not merely a question of receiving rain soon but receiving the right kinds of rain to replenish water supplies. It will likely require 2-4 heavy rains in a relatively short time period to produce runoff to recharge ponds.