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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter

Monday, December 20, 2021

Cattle Markets Add Christmas Cheer, but Drought is a Grinch

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


Christmas is upon us, and cattle markets are adding to the holiday spirit as 2021 comes to a close.  Optimism that has built in feeder cattle markets in the second half of the year has been enhanced and consolidated with the fed cattle market breaking out and moving sharply higher in the last two months of the year.  Fed cattle prices have increased roughly 12 percent since late October and are about 29 percent higher compared to one year ago in December. 


Oklahoma calf and stocker prices in mid-December are up 15 percent from the fall low in early October and are roughly 12 percent higher than the same time last year.  Heavy feeder cattle prices have increased about five percent since October and are ending the year about 18 percent higher year over year.  The auction totals for feeder cattle have been up nearly ten percent year over year since September with the December totals up over 22 percent compared to last year. Rising market prices apparently encouraged some producers to hold off until after Thanksgiving to market feeder cattle this year.


Rapidly expanding drought conditions are threatening winter wheat grazing in the southern plains.  Dwindling forage supplies may already be causing some wheat pasture removals and could be contributing to the strong December feeder cattle auction volumes.  The Mesonet map below shows that the majority of Oklahoma has received little or no precipitation in the past 30 days.  Without additional moisture very soon, more wheat pastures will have to be destocked. Current forecasts show little chances for precipitation in the region into January.  Wildfires have already caused much damage in the Plains and the risk remains very high.  Across the U.S. drought conditions are expanding, with the latest Drought Monitor indicating that nearly 74 percent of the U.S. is abnormally dry or in some stage of drought.  La Niña conditions are expected to persist through the winter, shifting the drought focus back to the southwest and southern plains and potentially improving drought conditions in California and the Pacific northwest. 


 Oklahoma mesonet rainfall map                                    




Wildfire Season: Prepare for the Worst

John Weir, OSU Associate Extension Specialist Natural Resource Ecology and Management


Winter time in Oklahoma brings a lot of changes to the land. The dormant season is the driest time of the year rainfall wise, with December through February normally receiving the least amount of rain than the other months. Then the drying and curing of the past summers growth of forage adds to conditions favorable for wildfires. Typically most wildfires in the state occur December through March due to the these dry conditions, but wildfires can happen any month of the year. Being prepared for a wildfire is something that we can do year-a-round, just a small amount of preparation can make a difference if you are ever faced with an oncoming wildfire.


One of the first things you should do is check with your insurance agent and determine what is covered and if you have enough coverage in case you were to receive damages from a wildfire. Then you need to start looking around your home, barns and other structures to see if there is anything that can be done to reduce the risk around those structures. Make sure all the tall grass is mowed short around them, remove any volatile trees, like cedars, that may be growing nearby. Also make sure to remove all flammable items, such as wood piles, from around buildings as well.


Equipment should be stored in areas that will not burn, like gravel or bare ground areas, if those are not available, continually mow or graze storage areas short to keep fire intensity down. Also when you store equipment for the year make sure to clean and remove all excess vegetation and oils from the outside. Next think about hay storage, store hay in bare ground areas, and don't store all of your hay in one area. A lot of times we store hay due to convenience, but this may not be the safest place to have it. Remember many insurance companies will only insure a hay stack to certain value or amount of hay. So check your insurance policy and think about where you store your hay.


Plans should also be made for protecting and moving livestock in case of a wildfire. Create safe areas for livestock with salt or mineral placement or winter feeding grounds along fence lines or in pasture corners. This will create areas of low fuel, reducing fire intensity and hopefully allowing livestock a safe haven during a wildfire. Do not try to herd or move animals in front of an oncoming wildfire, this is extremely dangerous. Always ensure the safety of your family, helpers, and you, before attempting to move livestock during a wildfire.


The most proactive effort that can be done to help prevent and reduce wildfire impacts is fighting fire with fire. Start using prescribed fire during proper conditions to remove old forage growth, control eastern redcedars, as well as creating blackened areas to protect property from damages. Prescribed fire has been shown to reduce the incidence of wildfire and make it safer for those fighting fire by removing volatile fuels and other fuel loads.


If you would like more information about protecting your property from wildfire check out Wildfire: Preparing the Ranch and Farm E-1048 available at your local OSU Cooperative Extension office or online at Wildfire: Preparing the Ranch and Farm.



Just How Do Santa's Reindeer Get the Job Done?

Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist

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


It is the “most wonderful time of the year” and this week Dr. Glenn Selk joins us to address the age-old questions of what permit reindeer to pull Santa’s sleigh all over the globe on Christmas eve.


Have you ever wondered how Santa's reindeer can make that monumental journey on Christmas Eve? Let's look into some key facts about reindeer that may help us understand how they transport Ole St. Nick on his appointed rounds over the world. First of all, historians report that reindeer have been domesticated by humans for over 5,000 years. Since Santa himself is no spring chicken, we can assume that they have worked together for quite a while. They should not have any trouble finding their way around. There is no need to worry about them getting lost. We do know that reindeer are like ruminants. They are like cattle in this regard. They have four compartments to their stomach. Of course Santa gets them filled up with hay before he leaves the North Pole, so they should have plenty of feed stored in the four compartments to make it all around the globe. Also, cattle nutritionists have known for years that hay digests more slowly than grain, therefore the big meal that the reindeer eat before the journey should last even longer. Or just like your mom says, "It'll stick to their ribs!". As for drinking water, that should be no problem whatsoever. In their homeland the water is all frozen so they are used to getting the moisture they need by eating snow. So as the sleigh is parked on snowy rooftops in cold weather cities, the reindeer can take on the moisture they need if they get thirsty.


How do they keep warm while flying around on Christmas Eve? The fur that they have is very thick and can hold a lot of air. The "blanket" of insulation combining fur and air helps keep them warm in even the coldest of climates. Plus flying around Christmas night in many areas of the world that are warmer than they have at home should not be a problem.


How do they fly? Well that’s a tougher question, and we really do not have that one completely answered. However, let’s look at what we do know about them. Reindeer are amazingly fast runners on the ground. A newborn baby reindeer at one day of age can out run the fastest person on earth. By the time that they are fully grown it is hard to tell what speeds that they could reach. Next remember those huge antlers. Antlers of adult male reindeer can be as much as 4 feet long! Just think about it. Each reindeer has 2 sets; that’s 8 feet of antlers and with eight reindeer (or nine if we count Rudolph on foggy nights) that is 64 to 72 feet of total antler span. A typical small airplane only has about 20 - 30 feet of wingspan. Certainly it seems feasible those eight reindeer running that fast with all that antler span could get off the ground.


There are a couple of myths about reindeer that we should clear up. You have probably heard the poem that says that they have tiny reindeer feet. Actually they have a very wide large hoof that they use at home to dig through the snow to find grass and moss to eat. You've got to think that those wide hooves would come in handy for sliding to rather sudden stops on the small landing sites that Santa has to work with on Christmas Eve. And you've probably heard the song about “up on the house top click, click, click”. Well it is true that reindeer do make a clicking sound as they walk. They have a tendon that snaps over a bone joint and makes a clicking sound on every step. These are just a few facts about Santa's Reindeer. Maybe this will help us understand that age-old mystery that occurs every Christmas


Merry Christmas from the Cow-Calf Corner Newsletter Team!

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