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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter

Monday, August 30, 2021

Drought and Herd Liquidation

Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist


Probably the most frequently asked question I am getting relates to how much the drought is adding to herd liquidation in 2021.  It’s a difficult question for several reasons. In the first place, we don’t know what the industry would have done in the absence of drought this year.  Having decreased the past two years from the 2019 peak, would the industry have continued liquidation in 2021 in any event?  The turbulence from the pandemic and other black swan events makes this an even more difficult question. 


What we do know is that beef cow slaughter is up 8.7 percent year over year through mid-August.  If we assume current level of year over year increase continues for the remainder of the year, it implies an annual beef cow slaughter of 3.55 million head. That would be a net culling rate of 11.4 percent, the highest beef herd culling rate since 2011. The average culling rate the past two years, since the cyclical peak in 2019, has been 10.25 percent. Over the past 35 years, across cycles of expansion and liquidation, the average herd culling rate has been 9.65 percent annually.  However, because the drought started so early in the year (carried over from last year), it is likely that beef cow slaughter was shifted earlier in the year.  Producers likely have already culled cows that would have been culled later in the year anyway.  I doubt that the 8.7 percent year over year beef cow slaughter rate will persist for the remainder of the year. Nevertheless, the drought continues unabated and cow slaughter rates will likely remain strong. 


Cow slaughter is only part of story about herd liquidation.  It is less clear at this point in the year what is happening with heifer retention.  The January Cattle report showed that beef replacement heifers were 18.7 percent of the cow herd, a level that would support stable herd inventories.  The total number of beef replacement heifers (which includes heifer calves and coming first calf heifers) and the subset of heifers calving in 2021 were both fractionally higher year over year in the January numbers.  No doubt producers in drought areas have had to adjust replacement heifer numbers along with cows.  Some heifer calves that were indicated as replacements in January likely were shifted into feedlots.  It is not clear how many.  Heifer slaughter is up 1.4 percent year to date over last year but year over year comparisons are difficult because of pandemic impacts last year.  Coming first calf heifers in January may have gotten sold out of drought areas and moved to other parts of country.  The July Cattle report showed a 2.3 percent decrease in beef replacement heifers. 


Finally, there is the question of how producers not in drought areas have responded in 2021.  Forage conditions have been good in some regions and it is not clear if producers may be holding more cows and heifers to offset some of the drought region impacts. In short we don’t know what would have happened in the absence of the drought and we don’t know for sure how the remainder of the year will finish.  After playing with lots of numbers and assumptions, my best guess at this point is that the drought has added one-half to one percent of additional beef herd liquidation this year. 

Fall Calving in Hot Weather

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


After a mild summer, the Oklahoma heat has arrived just as fall calving herds will begin seeing calves hit the ground.  With this in mind, this week we focus on the challenges faced in fall calving herds in hot weather.  The primary challenge is the impact high temperatures have on new born and young calves.  While fall calving is often easier than calving in the winter and early spring, when temperatures are high, it can create unhealthy conditions for calves.  The thermoneutral zone for a young calf is between 50 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit.  Likewise, cows calving in hot weather are more likely to become overheated and exhausted sooner in the process than a cow calving in cooler temperatures.  This can lead to prolonged calving and more stress on both cow and calf.  When fall calving is taking place during high temperatures, beware of the following: 

  • Heat stress is actually harder on young calves than cold stress.  When calves are heat stressed they lose appetite, eat less and are quicker to become dehydrated.
  • New born calves have an immature “thermostat” and accordingly have more problems regulating body temperature during weather extremes.
  • Shade and fresh water is critical.  In addition to milk, calves need more fresh, cool water in hot weather to prevent dehydration, keep their rumen functioning correctly and maintaining health and appetite.
  • Effects of heat stress on the dam can also negatively impact calves by reducing the transfer of passive immunity and subsequent weaning weights.
  • Black hided calves are more susceptible to heat stress than calves of lighter shades.


Critical “Best Practices” for fall calving herds include providing ample shade for calving cows and the young calves.  Shade and plenty of fresh water is vital.  If calves don’t have access to streams or ponds and are therefore dependent on water tanks, make sure the tank sits low enough and water levels inside are high enough for baby calves to have access. 



Angus Beef Bulletin Extra. Volume 14: Number 8.

Planting Wheat for Grazing

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Nutrition Specialist


Wheat is a great resource for Oklahoma farmers and ranchers, it can be used for grazing only, grain production only, or as a dual-purpose grazing and grain crop. Ideal planting dates are different depending on the intended purpose of the crop. 


The best grain crops are usually planted much later in the fall, around mid to late October. Dual purpose (grazing and grain) crops are planted in mid to late September. Because it is a double cropping system, seeding rates, planting dates, and fertilizer management are compromises between the needs for fall forage production and grain production in the spring. 


When wheat is used only for grazing through the fall and winter and as a grazing or hay crop in the spring, planting dates are much earlier than if grain production is the goal. Profitability of grazing depends on achieving the earliest forage production and maximizing forage during the fall and winter, so planting dates can be as early and the end of August into early September. 


When fields are planted earlier, soil temperatures are higher and soil moisture is usually limiting, therefore… 


  • Higher soil temperatures limit the length of the emerging shoot (coleoptile) of the plant so planting depth should be less than 1 inch.
  • In clean till fields hard rains can cause the seed bed to crust over hindering emergence of the wheat plant.
  • Earlier seeding makes it difficult to control cools season broadleaf and grassy weeds, so rotation of crops or seeding dates becomes necessary to clean up these issues.
  • Insect pests, such as grasshoppers and fall army worms, are a bigger issue for early planted wheat, so scouting and control are important.
  • Tom Royer with OSU Entomology and Plant Pathology presents Winter Wheat Management for Fall & Winter Pests. This webinar is part of the Thursday Rancher's Series and was presented on Nov, 12, 2020. OSU Extension: Winter Wheat Management for Fall & Winter Pests - YouTube
  • Seeding rates for early planted wheat are recommended to be higher than later planted wheat at 1.5 (90 pounds per acre) to 2 (120 pounds per acre) bushels per acre.


In no-till with good residue cover, soil temperatures are cooler than clean-till, moisture retention is often better, and there are less problems with soil crusting. The cooler soil temperatures will slow seedling emergence for late fall plantings but can be of benefit for early planted wheat. Resent research showed that fall forage production in no-till wheat plantings in mid-August and early September were similar to forage production of clean-tilled fields in early September. When planting was delayed until mid-September, fall forage production in tilled fields was better than in no-till. Stocker calf gains were the same for early planted no-till and clean-tilled fields, but no-till had later stocking dates and lower calf gains than clean-till when planted later. 


There is a lot of compromise and give and take when planting wheat and other cool-season annuals for pasture. Each year is different, but when aggressively pursuing the earliest planting dates for maximizing fall forage production, producers must be ready to intervene if crusting occurs and control pests or replanting may be necessary. 

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