New Video's 03/13/2012
Cattlemen are trying to hold on to core genetics as drought worsens
By Doug Rich
Cattlemen are struggling to hang on to the cows they have left as the drought continues across much of the U.S. Many producers culled their herds heavily last year as their pastures dried up and hay supplies dwindled.
"It is ugly," Lonny Duckworth, president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, said. "We just can't seem to get a rain here and if we do get some it is just a trace."
Duckworth, who raises cattle in Bates County, Mo., said their pastures are gone and producers are feeding hay. If they are not feeding hay on full feed they are feeding hay to supplement what little grass they have left.
"It amazes me that the condition of the cows is still pretty darn good," Duckworth said. "I put out Agri-Lix and others have put out protein tubs to help supplement the hay and grass."
Across the line in Arkansas the story is much the same. The majority of the counties in Arkansas are D3 on the drought monitor and in the central part of the state several counties are D4.
"As of this week we are running 17 inches behind on moisture," Adam McClung, executive vice president of the Arkansas Cattlemen's Association, said. "Right now the stems of grass in the pastures are dead and the roots are gone too. The ground is just baked."
At the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association Convention in July the report on range conditions across the state were depressing. The historic drought in 2011 has been followed by another historic drought in 2012.
Brian Pugh, Oklahoma State Extension educator in Haskell County, said the drought in 2011 left significant thinning of introduced forage stands. Stand losses in bermudagrass pastures ranged from 10 to 70 percent and nearly 40 percent of the fescue stands were lost. Even some native grass stands, which are somewhat drought tolerant, were lost.
Until July 27 the eastern part of Oklahoma had not had any rain for four weeks. There has been little to no warm-season grass production.
In the Osage region of northeast Oklahoma it is much the same as last year. Introduced forage is in poor condition and forage supplies are short.
The Ozarks region of northeast Oklahoma is much worse than last year. Pugh said there is very little growing forage and there are nitrate and prussic acid concerns.
Southeast Oklahoma is much worse than last year with little to no grass growing right now. Producers started feeding hay in June. However, areas along the Canadian River in Southeast Oklahoma are much better than last year. Pugh said they had timely rainfall and the pastures are fully stocked.
In southern Oklahoma Leland McDaniel, Oklahoma State University Extension educator in Carter County, said the effects of the drought in 2011 are evident in thin stands of Bermuda and old-world bluestem pastures.
"Some stands were a complete loss," McDaniel said. "We are right back were we were last year."
Justin Barr, Oklahoma State University Extension educator in Ellis County, Okla., said they only had 50 percent of normal rainfall in 2011, 70 percent of normal rainfall to day in 2012, and only 50 percent of normal rainfall in the last 90 days.
"We grow about 65 percent of our forage normally in these last 90 days," Barr said.
Early spring rains brought on a lot of cheat grass but there is no grass under the cheat. Two years of drought equals dead grass in many pastures in western Oklahoma.
Although producers in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma were able to put up some hay this spring the supply is running out because they had to start feeding hay so early. In western Oklahoma they started feeding hay in June and in Arkansas and Missouri many producers began feeding hay in July.
"Hay availability is pretty small right now," Duckworth said. "I think some areas had a pretty decent hay crop but they are holding on to it to see what the price does."
Many producers in Missouri and Arkansas try to have one to two years of hay in reserve but after last year that is just not possible.
"We take pride in having surplus hay for situations like this but it was so dry last fall that we used up a lot of those reserves," Duckworth said.
Producers are holding on to the cows they have left hoping for rains in September and October to give them some cool season forage. Jackie Moore, owner of the Joplin Regional Stockyards, said they could grow some winter feed, such as wheat, triticale, or rye, if they can just get some rain.
"Everybody at this time has culled down to their core genetics," McClung said. "They have kept the best of the best of the best. They are trying to hold on to those and praying for September and October rains."
For some producers the wait is over. They ran out of pasture, ran out of hay, and ran out of water and had to disperse their herds. McClung said there have been quite a few full herd dispersals in Arkansas. Moore said he started seeing complete dispersals the last week of July. The runs are bigger than normal at the Joplin Regional Stockyards. Moore said they sold 1,340 head on Aug. 1 and a year ago they sold 1,100 head. A normal run would be a round 800 head on a Wednesday sale. Auctions in West Plains, Mo., and northern Arkansas have been having big cow sales for the last month.
Money to drill new water wells is helpful, passage of a new farm bill would be helpful, but nothing would be more helpful than a rain gauge full of water right now.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.