Cold and dry January impacts Oklahoma winter grazing

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After starting with considerable promise last fall, winter wheat grazing conditions deteriorated dramatically in January.  Although some areas of the state did receive snow that carried beneficial moisture, the majority of the state has received less than 40 percent of normal precipitation since the beginning of the year including a large portion of the central and north-central part of the state receiving less than 20 percent of normal precipitation.  As a result, dry conditions have spread from the already dry western region back into central and eastern areas of the state.  The area of the state with some drought conditions (D0 or higher) increased from less than 50 percent of the state to over 70 percent of the state on the latest Drought Monitor map.  Expanding drought conditions is mostly a threat of what can happen in another 60-90 days if conditions do not improve.

The biggest immediate is for the winter wheat crop, with grazing all but exhausted in many areas, especially the region north of Interstate 40.  Grain yields are threatened now with dry conditions and cold temperatures increasing the potential for winter kill. The winter grazing season started well last fall with good prospects for the best winter grazing in several years.  As a result more stocker cattle were placed on wheat pasture.  The Oklahoma estimated feeder cattle supply on January 1 was 1.72 million head, up 4.9 percent from last year, indicating that more stocker cattle were brought into the state than in the past couple of years.  The annual inventory report indicated a 20 percent increase in cattle grazing small grains pasture in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas on January 1.

However, forage production was limited through December and the cold temperatures in January stopped forge growth altogether.  Many of the winter stockers have already moved to market in January.  The 7-market feeder cattle auction total in January was up 23 percent compared to the same period last year.  Not only were there more cattle out this winter, but more have already been marketed.  It is unlikely that a noticeable large wheat pasture run will develop in late February and early March.

The cold weather is also impacting cow-calf producers in Oklahoma.  Feed requirements have been well above normal because of prolonged cold spells.  Fortunately, Oklahoma producers had more hay available this winter.  December 1 hay stocks in the state were up 34 percent over the record low levels of the previous two years.  It appears that there is adequate hay for the winter, even with the larger cow herd and replacement heifer inventory in the state going into 2014.  However, hay supplies may be mostly utilized by winter’s end.  Exhausted hay supplies and expanding winter drought conditions mean that spring weather conditions will be critical and will determine if current herd rebuilding plans can be sustained. 



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