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Oklahoma Beef Cattle Numbers Drop Sharply

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


Oklahoma has been impacted by drought more than any other state, by several measures. The January 1 inventory of all cattle and calves in Oklahoma was down 11.5 percent year over year, from a 2022 total of 5.2 million head to 4.6 million head. The decrease of 600,000 head was double the second largest all cattle decrease in Nebraska. The decrease in Oklahoma cattle inventories included decreases in the beef cow herd, replacement heifers, feeder supplies and feedlot inventories.  


The Oklahoma beef cow herd decreased by 140,000 head in 2022 (largest state decrease in the country) to a January 1 total of 1.981 million head, a 6.6 percent decrease year over year and the lowest beef cow inventory since 2016. Oklahoma is still the second largest beef cow state (after Texas), but now is just fractionally larger than Missouri, which was unchanged in the last year. The liquidation in Oklahoma is not over Drought conditions continue in Oklahoma with the latest Drought Monitor showing 94.84 percent of the state abnormally dry (D0) or worse, including 56.71 percent of the state in D3 and D4 levels of drought. In the first five weeks of 2023, the combined Oklahoma auction volume of cull cows is up 49.2 percent year over year. Hay supplies are very tight in Oklahoma, as in many other places, and some producers may face additional culling to get through the winter.


Replacement beef heifers in Oklahoma were down 2.5 percent year over year, a smaller decrease compared to the 5.8 percent decrease nationally in beef replacement heifers. Oklahoma remains the number two beef heifer state (after Texas) and ahead of South Dakota. The comparatively modest decrease in beef replacement heifers suggests that Oklahoma producers are putting the highest priority on retaining heifers over other classes of cattle despite unfavorable conditions.


Oklahoma inventories of steers (>500 lbs.), other heifers (>500 lbs.) and calves (<500 lbs.) were all down with steers down 23.8 percent year over year, other heifers down 27.8 percent from last year and calves down 4.4 percent year over year. The Oklahoma feedlot inventory was down 11.1 percent from the previous year. The estimated supply of feeder cattle outside feedlots in Oklahoma (steers + other heifers + calves – feedlot inventory) was down was down 18.5 percent to the lowest level since 2014. The feeder supply estimate includes cattle grazing winter wheat pasture, which is sharply reduced this year. A recent tour in central Oklahoma showed many wheat fields with poor or emerging stands while others had full stands but have much less growth than normal for this time of year. Only a small percent of the wheat fields had cattle turned out for grazing and those were stocked significantly less than normal.  


Drought conditions in the next 4-5 months will be key and will set the stage for the remainder of the year in Oklahoma. If prospects for significant improvement in pasture and hay conditions are not in place by May, the state likely faces additional beef cattle liquidation in 2023.

Is It Time to Re-Program Your Cowherd?

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


What’s the old saying in the cattle business? “Droughts and hard times will make us better managers.”  I believe this is true if we learn from the hard times. Many of us have reduced cowherd inventories and are anticipating normal rain fall and herd expansion to capitalize on the bullish cattle market outlook. With this in mind, now is the time to take a close look at our business model and specifically the “production factory” in the cow-calf business. The “production factory” I am referring to is our cowherd. We maintain them on our grass, breed them, feed them, anticipate their next calf crop and plan the marketing of that calf-crop as a return on our investment. In the normal production cycle, when our “production factory” is performing in optimum fashion, our input expenses are offset by the calf she will produce for us each year. If all goes well, we expect a cow to stay in production until the age of 10 years. Whether we buy bred heifers, cow calf pairs or develop our own replacements from within, the longer a cow stays in production, the greater she returns against our cost of getting her into production.


What type of cow is most likely to wean off a calf each 12 months and continue to accomplish this in subsequent years? A cow that fits our production environment with respect to her mature size, level of milk and reproductive efficiency. If you had to cull cows during the past year, most likely it was the biological extremes (too big or too much milk) that didn’t fit your operation’s production environment that were open and the first to go.  


As we look to the future, seize the opportunity to re-populate with cows that are the best fit for your production system and intended marketing plan for calves. This can be done through sire selection if we intend to generate our own replacements. This is the long-term solution. Purchasing bred heifers or cow-calf pairs is the more immediate solution. In either case, consider the type of beef female that works best for you and when making bull purchases evaluate the genetic potential of herd sires that will result in the type of “production factory” that offers the best return to your operation’s bottomline.

Feeding Monensin to Beef Cows Decreases Intake but Increases Efficiency

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University State Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist


This year we are all searching for alternatives that can get our cows through the winter on the least feed and hay, without decreasing the long-term productivity of the herd. Even in “normal” years, feed and pasture is close to 70% of variable costs and 50% of total costs of maintaining a cowherd. Economic research has shown that high profit producers had 39% lower feed and pasture cost than low profit producers. So, practices that decrease feed costs without affecting productivity have potential to improve profitability.


Ionophores are a class of antibiotics that shift rumen microbial populations to increase energetic efficiency and reduce production of waste molecules such as methane. The ionophore monensin was approved for used in replacement beef and dairy heifers in 1983 and for beef cows in 1988, but there does not appear to be widespread adoption of its use in the cow-calf industry. The approval for feeding monensin to beef cows indicates that monensin should be fed continuously at a rate of 50 to 200 mg/head/day in a minimum of 1 pound of medicated feed/head/day and is not to be self-fed.


A team of researchers led by Dr. David Lalman from Oklahoma State University compiled the results of 26 experiments from 21 publications evaluating the effects of monensin supplementation on performance and reproduction of mature beef cows. This was published in the journal Translational Animal Science last summer


Key findings for mature cows were:

  • Bodyweight and body condition score changes were not affected by feeding monensin.
  • Monensin significantly decreased forage intake by 7.8%.
  • Milk production was increased by 5.4% in a small data set of experiments.
  • Monensin also decreased the days to estrus post-calving by 18 days and increased the number of cows showing estrus before breeding by 19%.
  • Calculated energetics from feed intake and performance data show feeding monensin increases dietary energy by 4.7%.


This supports using monensin to help push thin cattle to start cycling before breeding that would otherwise be late breeders or open. In current conditions, with limiting forage resources and high feed costs the 8% reduction in feed intake by mature cows is a major consideration in using monensin while supplementing cows this winter. The combination of reduced feed intake, increased milk production, and earlier estrus activity has the potential to have long-term positive impacts on cowherd efficiency. We will look at the results from the analysis of including monensin in diets for developing replacement heifers in a future article.

Watch for Wheat Pasture Bloat

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University State Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist


Imagine, a disease that creates a paralyzing fear in cattle producers preventing them from utilizing all the forage options available to them. Wheat pasture bloat, also known as frothy bloat is that disease and is one of the most preventable nutritional diseases in cattle. Make no mistake, it is a shocking sight to drive past a lush pasture and see cattle with swollen egg-shaped protrusions from their sides and dead swollen carcasses. To avoid this, producers simply need a little education, a plan, and a supplement.


Wheat and other small grain pastures have been short due to lack of rain this winter, but when growing conditions improve with warmer temperatures and rain, forage growth comes on rapidly. Rapidly growing small grain forage can lead to bloat of grazing cattle, bloat potential can be enhanced when frost damages immature wheat forage. 


The rapid onset of pasture bloat and the short time window from the occurrence of initial symptoms and death may be the scariest part of this disease. Bloat can be an issue on small grain pastures and legume pastures such as clover or alfalfa and can impact calves or mature cows. Death losses can be as high as 15 to 20% of cattle on a pasture, which can be a massive economic loss for the producer. Lost production from subclinical bloat may actually be greater than producers realize. Much of the cost associated with bloat is from lost production due to the producer’s fear of encountering bloat. Cattle grazing small grain pasture can gain in excess of 2.5-3.0 pounds per day, avoiding these pastures based a fear of bloat is unreasonable especially when there are affordable and user-friendly methods for control.


There are several grazing management alternatives that can be used to decrease the incidence of bloat. Because bloat is a bigger issue for cattle on unlimited pasture that can consume large amounts forages in a short period of time, over stocking cattle on pastures to a point that forage intake is limited has potential to decrease bloat. Alternatively, where rotational grazing is used, cattle can be placed on pastures after the forages have accumulated sufficient growth and maturity to increase the fiber content of the forages which can also decrease bloat potential. 


An overview of research of growing calves on bloat provoking pastures (alfalfa, clover and wheat pastures) showed that monensin supplementation decreases bloat by 20% and reduces the severity of bloat. This option is attractive because ionophores increase average daily gains by 10% (0.17 pound per day increase) for a cost of about 3 cents per day above the cost of the carrier supplement, which is an economic benefit to stocker cattle producers. Even though monensin decreases the incidence and severity of frothy bloat on pastures, it does not eliminate the issue altogether. Poloxalene (Bloatguard) is a surfactant and works to disrupt the froth, which can form in the rumen causing bloat. Research shows that monensin works fairly well at preventing bloat, but poloxalene has been proven to be a more effective remedy for frothy bloat than monensin. Providing poloxalene in a self-fed supplement (blocks or other supplements) costs 15 to 20 cents per calf per day depending on the cost of the supplement. If poloxalene is fed only during the period that forages are most bloat provocative then the total cost of bloat control can be covered by the prevention of the loss of a single animal. 


As a management strategy producers may consider using monensin until there are bloat cases then switching to poloxalene once cattle show clinical signs of bloat. Economic benefits will be gained from the increased gains from feeding monensin and the reduced incidence and severity of bloat allows for timing to acquire alternative feed additives, such as poloxalene, to control bloat.

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