I have driven across a wide swath of Oklahoma and north Texas as well as a bit of Kansas the past couple of weeks and it is clear that from this point on the drought impacts will develop rapidly. Forage is greening up quickly in north Texas and across Oklahoma but the green-up will be short lived without immediate moisture. Many livestock ponds are very low and will not sustain cattle long as temperatures warm. Parts of northeastern Oklahoma and eastern Kansas are slightly better compared to the rest of the region.
At this point, the drought is not so much of a market issue as it is an individual management issue. Though it is hard to detect in the current sky high prices, the drought may be impacting demand for summer grazing and may soon begin to have impacts on cull cow markets. These impacts will become more noticeable if the drought persists.
Producers need to act quickly to assess their forage and water situation in terms of any remaining hay reserves and act to maximize the value of what little new forage growth occurs. In many cases, producers have little chance of maintaining normal stocking rates for any length of time without new forage and will have to invoke rather drastic culling plans soon unless relocation out of the region is a viable option. Relatively few drought options exist in this situation unless significant hay reserves are available. However, by acting soon, producers may be able to stretch limited forage for a core herd in hopes that moisture will arrive before all options are exhausted.
If producers are forced to sell cow-calf pairs, selling sooner rather than later is preferable. Producers with spring calves may be able to early wean and program feed the calves in a confinement backgrounding program. This option might work well to reduce the feed requirements for cows that then have a better chance to rough it until conditions improve. Thus a combination of selling some pairs and early weaning the remaining calves might provide a way to maintain a core herd.
Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist