The window of opportunity for planting winter wheat for grazing is rapidly closing. In Oklahoma, dual-purpose or forage-only winter wheat generally needs to be planted by mid-September in order to produce significant fall and winter forage. Wheat planted for grain-only has about another month to be in the ideal planting window. It will take two to three significant moisture events in order to establish and support fall wheat forage growth and the first of those events needs to happen in the next week or so. There is some chance for limited rain showers this coming week which likely represent the last chance for early planting of wheat for forage.
Winter wheat grazing normally supports a large winter stocker industry in Oklahoma. The January 1 estimate of feeder cattle outside of feedlots has averaged about 2.3 million head the last ten years. This value includes roughly a million head of stocker cattle that are brought into Oklahoma for winter grazing in addition to stocker cattle retained from Oklahoma’s 1.9 million head calf crop. These in-shipments of cattle will be drastically reduced given current prospects for winter wheat pasture.
The extreme drought conditions has resulted in severely reduced hay and pasture production and now seems likely to limit winter wheat forage to a small fraction of normal production. Many calves in Oklahoma have already been marketed as early weaned calves and have moved to feedlots or to better forage out of state. That fact, combined with few calves brought in as stockers may result in an Oklahoma feeder supply on January 1, 2012 that is down by one million head or more.
Though more typically used for stocker grazing, for many cow-calf producers, winter wheat pasture represents the last hope for winter forage for cow herds this year. If wheat pasture were to develop this fall, a high proportion would likely be used to support cows and replacement heifers compared to stocker production. Although many cows have already been liquidated, additional liquidation is eminent without winter wheat pasture. The lack of wheat pasture and other forage also means that fewer replacement heifers than normal will be retained this year. Oklahoma appears to be headed for an unprecedented year to year decrease in total cattle inventories.