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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Drought Threat Expanding

Derrell S. Peel Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist


Drought is expanding in the country.  While much of the intermountain west, the southwest and parts of the northern plains have been in drought for much of the past 18 months or more, drought is expanding dramatically now in the central and southern plains.  The Drought Monitor tracks drought conditions in categories from D0 (Abnormally Dry) to D4 (Exceptional Drought).  The five categories can be combined into a single index number known as the Drought Severity and Coverage Index (DSCI). The DSCI can range in value from 0 to 500.  The current national DSCI is 176 and has ranged from a low of 164 to a high of 188 for the past year.  The U.S. has continuously had a DSCI over 100 since July 2020 and over 150 since October 2020.  Prior to that, the last time the DSCI was over 150 was September 2013.


While the DSCI is a useful single index value, it can mask changes in the drought.  Compared to one year ago, drought across the country is more widespread and the pockets of most severe drought are smaller.  Currently 70.87 percent of the country is in D0 or worse compared to 64.68 percent one year ago.  However, the current percent of D3-D4 is 12.21 percent compared to 20.38 percent last year.  The D4 category alone is currently 1.32 percent compared to 8.79 percent one year ago.  


The national DSCI also masks regional variation and the regional changes in drought over time.  While the national DSCI has maintained an elevated but relatively narrow range for the past year, regional drought conditions vary widely as shown in the following examples.  Parts of the southwest and southern Rocky Mountain regions experienced severe drought in 2020, with limited improvement in 2021 but with persistent drought.  New Mexico has a current DSCI of 307 and has been above 200 since July of 2020.  The New Mexico DSCI peaked at 436 for several weeks about one year ago.  North Dakota had a DSCI of 249 one year ago, peaked at 393 in May 2021 and currently is at 171.  Montana has a current DSCI of 321 and has been above 300 since last July.  


By contrast, Oklahoma had a DSCI of 40 one year ago and dropped to just 8 in July 2021.  However, since November, the Oklahoma DSCI has increased rapidly to the current level of 314.  Texas has a similar story, going from a DSCI less than 100 last October to the current level of 282.  Though not as severe at this time, dry conditions have expanded across much of Kansas and Nebraska in the past three months.


There is plenty of time to avoid widespread drought impacts but without significant moisture in the next 2-3 months, the cattle industry could see major market impacts that affect the entire industry as well as the tremendous hardships that would land on many producers and individual operations.  Although the worst impacts may not be realized for several months yet, producers should begin planning now for the decisions that would be required if spring doesn’t come.  Hopefully it is a plan that will never be needed.


Ranchers Thursday Lunchtime Webinar series on managing forages through drought from February 4, 2021.



Preparing for Winter Calving

Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist


Calving during the winter months can present some unique challenges.  Cold and/or wet weather, higher birth weights, fewer hours of daylight and in most herds this is the time of year when we, as producers, are the primary source of nutrition provided in the form of harvested forage and supplemental feeds.  What can we do to make calving in the late winter months as problem-free as possible?  GET PREPARED!


Calving Kit and Facilities

Prior to Calving Season it is important to take inventory of our facilities.  Our working pens, chutes and alley ways need to be in good working order.  If we have a calving barn or indoor facility remember to check cameras, batteries and light bulbs.  We want all facilities ready BEFORE we find ourselves assisting that first heifer in the calving process.


To be fully prepared, have the following list of supplies in a cooler, bucket or tool box:

  • Colostrum and feeding bottle
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • OB Sleeves
  • Non-detergent lubricant
  • Antiseptic
  • OB chains and calf puller 
  • Paper towels
  • Rope halter
  • Large cloth towel

Also, understand the three stages of bovine parturition (covered in the Cow-Calf Corner newsletter January 10th, 2022).  It’s important to know what to expect when a cow or heifer goes into labor in order to know when and how to provide assistance.   



Account for Cold Weather

Cold, wet weather drives up cow nutritional requirements and cows should be fed accordingly.  The Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor is an excellent tool for monitoring weather conditions and the impact they have on cattle.  According to the Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor, cow energy requirements increase 1% for each degree the cattle comfort index is below 32 degrees F.  This energy need will double to 2% if the animal is wet to the skin.  In regard to new born calves, consider that in the birth process they are leaving the cozy environment of their mother’s womb at a temperature of 101-102 degrees F and hitting the ground at temperatures as much as 100 degrees colder.  Add in rain, snow, muddy ground or high winds and the situation can be catastrophic for newborns.  While nature equips calves with a limited amount of brown adipose tissue which is burned internally to create heat for survival.  Extreme cold can overwhelm the ability to create enough internal heat and hypothermia can occur.  Calves suffering from hypothermia are more susceptible to naval infections, pneumonia and scours.  Best management practices for cold weather calving include:


  • Provide adequate wind breaks, shelter and bedding so cows can separate and calve in a warmer, dryer, protected environment. 
  • Plan ahead to provide the additional protein and energy needs of cows during the final trimester of pregnancy and the beginning of lactation.
  • Sort first calf heifer from cows and manage accordingly.  Heifers are inexperienced and more likely to need a higher level of attention during calving and the initial stages of claiming and raising a calf.

Check out the Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor to get an idea of increased feed needs as we move into February.


Calving Time Management for Beef Cows and Heifers


Dr. Glenn Selk describes how weather impacts the birthweight of winter calves on SunUpTV from February 20, 2021.


Dr. Glenn Selk gives an overview of items to include in a calving kit on a classic SunUpTV from January 24, 2015. 


Time to Add Clovers to Your Pastures

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist


Nitrogen fertilizer prices have reached over $750/ton for urea (over 85¢/pound of N), with expectations that it could reach over $1,000/ton. This is a good time to consider using legumes in our pastures to replace N fertilizers. Forage legumes can fix 50 to 150 (or more) pounds of nitrogen from the air, depending on the density of the legume stand. Clover plantings are often most successful when planting in late winter to early spring (February and early March), so it is time to get this on your mind.


Clovers and most other legumes require neutral pH and proper soil phosphorus and potassium. Hopefully, you have been following Extension recommendations and soil testing and correcting pH and soil fertility issues when fertilizers were cheaper. If you are considering planting clovers first you should soil test the sites you are considering planting. Clovers do not fixate nitrogen as well in acid soils, so pH> 6.0 is a must. If pH, P, and K are adequate or easily corrected in some sites but not others plant clovers in the better sites. Then grass should be grazed or mowed closely, the reduction in plant residue enables good seed to soil contact for better germination and seedling survival. 


Frost seeding of clovers is very cheap and effective. To do this, seed is simply broadcast seed onto the soil surface and allowing the freeze and thaw cycles to incorporate it into the soil through frost heave. Success can be enhanced by dragging pastures after you broadcasting the seed to get better contact with the soil. If using a no-till drill be sure seed depth is right, these small seeds should not be planted more than ½ inch deep. Planting equipment should be calibrated to ensure the correct seeding rate. Red clover should be planted at 10 to 12 pounds per acre, but white clover should only be planted at 3 to 5 pounds per acre.


Using high-quality seed of a clover species adapted to you site is also of great importance. Arrowleaf clover is highly productive in sandy loam soils while red clovers prefers loam to clay loam soil but neither thrives in poorly drained soils. White clover does will in poorly drained loam to clay loam soils.


In some recent research, interseeding white and red clovers into bermudagrass was compared to bermudagrass fertilized with 0, 50, or 100 pounds of actual N per acre. For each pound of nitrogen, steer gain per acre was increased by 1.2 to 1.5 pounds, which would cost about 56 cents per pound of gain. Including clovers in the pasture increased total bodyweight gain per acre by over 150 pounds over fertilized pastures, so clovers can be highly cost effective to add to your pastures.


For more information about clovers and other legumes refer to the fact sheet “Forage Legumes for Oklahoma” PSS-2585 by John Caddel and Jim Enis.



Rancher’s Thursday Lunchtime Series: 


Preparing for Extended Drought 

David Lalman and Paul Beck OSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialists


These free webinar sessions are scheduled for Thursdays at noon. Join our Beef Cattle Extension team, experienced ranchers and scientists to learn and share beef cattle production, management, and marketing tips! 


Thursday, February 10 - Zoom Webinar - noon to 1 pm

Can I afford to buy feed to carry calves until pasture is available? – Paul Beck

Replacement heifer nutrition to optimize pregnancy rates – David Lalman


Thursday, February 17 - Zoom Webinar - noon to 1 pm

Eastern Oklahoma Pasture Management Considerations – Brian Pugh

Western Oklahoma Range Management Considerations – Laura Goodman


Thursday, February 24 – Zoom Webinar - noon to 1 pm

The Weather: What Can We Expect? – Wes Lee

Cattle Outlook: Destocking Considerations – Derrell Peel


Register in advance for this webinar

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