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Resurgent Drought Threatens Oklahoma Herd Expansion

Mon, 24 Feb 2014 10:46:47 CST

Resurgent Drought Threatens Oklahoma Herd Expansion
Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist, writes in the latest Cow-Calf Newsletter:

Oklahoma was one of a few states on January 1 showing the clearest signs of beef cow herd rebuilding. The Oklahoma beef cow herd was up 51,000 head (2.9 percent year over year), second only to Kansas and Missouri in the absolute increase in cow numbers. The Oklahoma inventory of beef replacement heifers was up 45,000 head (16.1 percent year over year), the largest increase in beef replacement heifers among states. Still, this increase in beef cow numbers is only a beginning. Oklahoma's beef cow herd is still down 10.5 percent from January 1, 2011. The rebuilding process has a long way to go.

The herd expansion plans currently in place are the result of significantly improved drought conditions in the second half of 2013. Though 2013 started dry, much of the state received close to average precipitation during the year. Forage conditions improved and the final weekly crop condition report in late November showed that range and pasture conditions were rated 40 percent fair and 40 percent good to excellent. At the end of 2013, the Drought Monitor showed that less than half of Oklahoma had any drought and less than 5 percent of the state had D3 or D4 (Extreme or Exceptional) drought. Hay production in Oklahoma recovered significantly in 2013 compared to the two previous years. December 1 hay stocks in Oklahoma were up 34 percent year over year from 2012 levels. This has provided sufficient hay to support the increased cow and heifer inventories. Better wheat pasture conditions in the fall of 2013 provided more winter grazing for stockers as well as cows and replacement heifers.

However, drought conditions have re-emerged back across central and eastern Oklahoma in January. From the western counties and the Panhandle where drought has been in place continuously for three years, 80 percent of the state now shows some level of drought conditions. Much of this drought is minor at this point with nearly 33 percent area only DO, i.e., abnormally dry. In early February, pasture and range rated good to excellent had dropped from 40 to 24 percent. The area of D3 and D4 drought has increased to 12.5 percent since the beginning of the year. As it is still February, dry conditions now are not a major problem. If the conditions persist or expand for another 60-90 days, the threat will increase dramatically. This winter has included more cold and snowy weather than usual resulting in increased hay and supplement feeding. This may lead to relatively small hay carryover despite increased hay supplies this winter. Water reserves are still well below normal in many cases and critical shortages could develop quickly with warm and windy weather this spring.

Producers should do a feed assessment and develop a plan for the spring that includes decision points triggered by developing forage and water conditions. The most recent Climate Prediction Center drought forecast through May is somewhat encouraging. It suggests that drought may moderate in central and eastern Oklahoma, though drought is expected to persist in the western and Panhandle portions of Oklahoma. The extent of or lack of drought, in Oklahoma and in other regions as well, may affect cattle markets and will determine the cattle production and marketing alternatives that will available to producers in 2014.



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