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Cattle Markets Building Momentum

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


Cattle market direction is often difficult to determine in January of a new year. Carryover cattle sales for tax purposes may mask the true underlying direction of markets.  Additionally, winter weather impacted cattle markets in late 2022 and through January 2023.  For the moment, at least, winter weather impacts are decreasing, allowing feeder and fed cattle flows to normalize somewhat.  There is, however, plenty of winter left and opportunities for more market disruptions in the coming weeks. 


Oklahoma auction prices for feeder cattle jumped sharply last week despite larger auction volumes following weather-reduced volumes the previous two weeks. Fed prices appeared to pick up strength at the end of last week and boxed beef prices increased to the end of the week. Both fed cattle and boxed beef are poised to move higher as supply fundamentals tighten. Cull cow prices have advanced each week so far this year and are expected to continue very strong with decreased cow slaughter ahead. 


Although feedlot inventories have declined since October, cattle slaughter remains higher year over year thus far for fed cattle and cull cows and bulls. Feedlots inventories should continue to tighten and cattle slaughter should decline in the coming weeks, although continued drought conditions may slow the rate of decrease if more animals are liquidated.  Beef production is expected to decrease year over year going forward as cattle slaughter drops. Steer and heifer carcass weights are currently below year ago levels, in part due to previous winter weather. 


Winter weather may impact cattle markets considerably in the coming weeks and drought conditions need to be monitored continuously as we move toward spring.  The general consensus of meteorologists is that La Niña conditions are likely to fade to neutral and perhaps to El Niño this year but not until the second half of the year.  The remainder of winter and spring conditions may continue to be challenging as producers grapple with limited feed supplies.  Early planning for the coming growing season can be useful to develop pasture/range and grazing management plans to be positioned to recover when conditions improve.  Too much grazing too early may be self-defeating in terms of long term resource recovery and ranch productivity. 


2023 Winter Management Checklist

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


We have been blessed in many parts of the state with recent moisture yet most of Oklahoma remains in various degrees of drought.  Fortunately, the winter has been mild to this point and as we move closer to spring, this week my article addresses a winter checklist of management practices in preparation for the future. 

  1. Target weights on replacement heifers.  In a typical year with good wheat pasture, getting our replacement heifers to target weights by the beginning of spring breeding season can be effortless.  This year is an exception.  With this in mind, remember the following rule of thumb, replacement heifers should be at two-thirds of their mature weight by 14 - 15 months of age at the beginning of your intended breeding season.  Over 90% of heifers accomplishing this target weight, at this age will be sexually mature and capable of conceiving in time to calve by two years of age.  If your heifers are behind schedule, there is still time to adapt your feeding plan so that heifers reach target weight by breeding season. Determining the expected mature weight can be accomplished by weighing the four to seven year old cows that produced your replacement heifers.  
  2. Supplemental feeding, mineral and protein supplementation is likely more important than ever as we feed non-traditional hays.  Feedback from producers indicate tremendous variation in type and quality of hays fed this year.  With this in mind, mineral, energy and protein should be provided at adequate levels to have cows (and heifers) at optimum Body Condition Score (BCS) by beginning of calving season to insure timely breed back.  It is more efficient to put condition on dry cows than lactating cows.  Optimum BCS for mature cows is 5 - 5.5.  Heifers should be at 5.5 - 6 by the start of calving season.  It is well documented that reproduction will suffer if cows are too thin at calving.  
  3. Preventing wheat pasture bloat.  Many producers may be turning out on wheat pasture for the first time in the near future.  Managing stocking rates as well as the use monensin and poloxalene should be considered.  Review Dr. Paul Beck's article in the 2/06/23 Cow-calf Corner Newsletter for more details.  
  4. Deworming can sometimes be the least expensive feed.  If feed is scarce and cows are thin, review the last time your cowherd was dewormed.  Deworming now could lead to more efficient use of feedstuffs.  
  5. Be prepared for cold weather calving.  The mild dry winter has been optimum for calving to this point.  That being the case, we have several more weeks of potential for cold weather and winter storms. 


Development of Replacement Beef Heifers. Chapter 29. OSU Beef Cattle Manual, eight edition. Watch Out for Wheat Pasture Bloat. Dr. Paul Beck. Cow-Calf Corner Newsletter. February 6, 2023.


How Does Extended Wheat Stocker Grazing Impact Economic Returns?

Eric A. DeVuyst, Professor and Rainbolt Chair
Roger Sahs, Associate Extension Specialist
Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University 


With hay supplies extraordinarily tight in Oklahoma and winter still here, both wheat stocker producers and cow-calf producers are looking for forage sources to get by until stockers are sold or grass greens up for grazing. One temptation is to continue grazing dual-purpose wheat later than is recommended by Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service specialists. This is a temptation to be resisted! 


Past research demonstrates significant economic losses from grazing winter wheat past the physiological growth phase called first hollow stem. Depending on weather and location, first hollow stem usually appears around March 1 but in warm winters it occurs in February. Research by Fieser and others reported a 1% loss in wheat grain yield from grazing just one day past first hollow stem. Even at that seemingly harmless loss, an analysis by DeVuyst and others show net losses of about $1 per acre including both cattle gain and wheat grain loss. However, the Fieser research evaluated losses on stockpiled wheat forage, a rather uncommon management practice in Oklahoma.


Alternatively, research by Redmon and others evaluated losses from more conventionally managed wheat grazing. Their results show a 5% average loss in wheat grain yield from just one day of extended grazing. In the report by DeVuyst and others that equates to over $11 per acre in lost net returns after considering the value of cattle gains and wheat grain losses. 


Grazing for seven days past first hollow stem has substantially worse economic outcomes. Grain yield reductions range from 6% (Fieser et al.) to 33% (Redmon et al.). Using these estimates of grain yield loss, DeVuyst et al. report economic losses ranging from almost $4 to $75 per acre. Taylor et al. combined the two datasets and report wheat grain loss of 18% with a resulting economic loss of $35 per acre (DeVuyst et al.). 

Regardless of prior management, the data clearly show that grazing past first hollow set is not economically advisable in dual purpose wheat systems. Added cattle gains do not justify lost wheat grain yield. Producers are encouraged to check wheat frequently as temperatures warm and wheat is actively growing to avoid grazing past the first hollow stem. 


DeVuyst, E.A., R. Sahs, K.W. Taylor, F.M. Epplin, G.W. Horn, and J.T. Edwards. 2023. "The Effect of Extended Stocker Grazing on Wheat and Stocker Profits" Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service. Pending.

Fieser, B.G., G.W. Horn, J.T. Edwards, and E.G. Krenzer, Jr.  "Timing of Grazing Termination in Dual-Purpose Winter Wheat Enterprises."  The Professional Animal Scientist 22(2006):210-216.

Redmon, L.A., E.G. Krenzer Jr., D.J. Bernardo, and G.W. Horn.  "Effect of Wheat Morphological Stage at Grazing Termination on Economic Return."  Agronomy Journal 88(1996):94-97. 


First Hollow Stem is the Critical Point for Removing Cattle from Dual Purpose Wheat

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University State Extension Beef Nutrition Specialist 


Dual purpose wheat pasture for grazing and grain production is a major agriculture A hand holding a hollow steam leaf. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University. enterprise in Oklahoma and the Southern Great Plains. Research at OSU in the 1990's showed that the first hollow stem is the critical stage to minimize grazing damage to grain yields. Damage to grain production is dependent on many factors, but can range from 1 to 5% per day grazing past first hollow stem. First hollow stem is affected by the genetics of the wheat variety and environmental factors. The Oklahoma Mesonet has tools available to estimate the percent of wheat crops that have reached the first hollow stem based on actual local conditions or one to two week projections and variety maturity


Varieties may vary by as much as 3 weeks in date of first hollow stem, so producers are encouraged to be familiar with the maturity rating of the variety they are using and when considering a dual-purpose grazing and grain production system select wheat varieties that are rated as medium, late or very late in first hollow stem date. To check for first hollow stem:

  • Go to nongrazed area and dig up four to five plants.
  • Grazing delays maturity, so finding ungrazed areas is important for accurate assessment. Ungrazed areas can be found in field corners or areas just outside of the electric fence. 
  • Select the largest tiller from the plants.
  • Split the stems with a razor or box cutter starting at the base.  
  • At First Hollow Stem, the hollow stem is 5/8th of an inch below the developing wheat head (the diameter of a U. S. dime).  
  • Check for hollow stem below soil surface, because much of the hollow stem will be below the soil surface.



More information can be found in the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service Factsheet PSS-2147 First Hollow Stem: A Critical Wheat Growth Stage for Dual-Purpose Producers and Dr Jeff Edwards talked about identifying first hollow stem and the Mesonet's First Hollow Stem Advisor tool on a classic SunUpTV episode from February 7, 2015. 

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