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Poor Pasture Conditions, Low Hay Stocks and Drought

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


Drought conditions continue to be historically bad for this time of year and recent USDA data confirms that the situation is critical for the beef cattle industry.  USDA reports pasture and range conditions from May through October and the initial reports this year show that U.S. pasture conditions are the worst ever for May in data back to 1995 with 44 percent of pastures reported in poor and very poor condition.  Among the worst state conditions are Arizona (90 percent poor to very poor), North Dakota (75 percent), Utah (71 percent) and New Mexico (65 percent).


Regional aggregations compiled by the Livestock Marketing Information Center show the West region (AZ, CA, ID, NM, NV, OR, UT, WA) with 51 percent of pastures in poor to very poor condition.  The Great Plains region (CO, KS, MT, NE, ND, SD, WY) has 43 percent of pastures in poor to very poor condition.  The Southern Plains (OK, TX) has 29 percent of pastures in poor to very poor condition.  These three regions account for 60.6 percent of the total beef cow inventory and currently 40.1 percent of all beef cows in the country (12.67 million head) are in states with 40 percent or more poor to very poor pasture and range conditions.


The most recent USDA crop production report included May 1 hay stocks.  The hay crop year runs from May-April so the May 1 stocks are the beginning stocks for the coming year.  Total U.S. hay stocks for May 1 were 18.0 million tons, down 11.8 percent year over year and are 13.7 percent lower than the five-year average from 2015-2019.  Among major hay states, Colorado May 1 hay stocks were down 43.9 percent year over year and were down 60.3 percent from the five-year average.  Kansas was down 35.9 percent year over year and was down 11.7 percent from the five-year average.  Missouri was down 29.1 percent year over year and down 13.7 percent from the five-year average.  Nebraska was down 27.5 percent from one year ago and was down 13.0 percent from the five-year average. Texas was down 38.5 percent from one year ago and is down 44.4 percent from the five-year average.


Following the regional aggregations above, the West region had May 1 hay stocks down 24.9 percent year over year and down 34.1 percent from the five-year average.  Hay stocks in the Great Plains region were down 20.1 percent year over year and down 6.4 percent from the five-year average.  The Southern Plains region May 1 hay stocks were down 28.8 percent from last year and were down 29.3 percent from the five-year average.


Beef cow slaughter has increased sharply in the latest data to levels not seen since fall cow culling last November and December.  Weekly beef cow slaughter increased 13-14 percent in the latest two weeks of data over the previous six week average.    It appears that herd liquidation is already happening and more can be expected.  Poor pasture conditions now, reduced hay stocks and limited potential for pasture and hay production all suggest that additional beef cow herd liquidation is imminent.


A Rancher’s Thursday Lunchtime Webinar from February 4th covers Feeding Alternatives to Stretch Forage Supplies (Dr. Paul Beck); Managing Cool Season Forages in Late Winter in Drought Conditions (Brian Pugh); and Drought – Making Efficient Use of Limited Moisture for Warm Season Pastures: The Planning Starts Now (Leland McDaniel).


Derrell Peel says there are more cattle than packing capacity and the industry is working through it on Sunup May 15, 2021.

Estrus Synchronization - Part 1

Dr. Dan Stein, Oklahoma State University Department of Animal and Food Sciences


Estrus synchronization is a reproductive management tool that facilitates the use of both artificial insemination (AI) as well as natural service. Estrus synchronization is never a substitute for poor nutrition, poor herd health or poor management. For any estrus synchronization program to be implemented successfully, it must be well thought-out and well planned. When using estrus synchronization with AI, producers can capitalize on the superior and proven genetics available with commercially processed semen. For some producers, natural service may be the easiest method of breeding their cows or heifers and estrus synchronization together with natural service may be as beneficial as using AI, as using bulls at a synchronized estrus can be an effective way to tighten the calving period and eventually shorten the breeding season. Producers should keep in mind that when cows are synchronized and bred by natural service, management considerations should be made for the serving capacity of the bull. Also, the failure to identify a sub-fertile bull prior to being turned out will be magnified when a synchronized estrus protocol is incorporated into a natural service breeding program. Pregnancy rates using either bulls or AI after the same synchronization protocol should be similar provided good management practices are utilized in both situations.


The benefits of incorporating estrus synchronization into a breeding program, whether using natural service or artificial insemination include:

  • Improving management by more easily defining the breeding season and the calving period.
  • A labor-saving tool if monitoring parturition; females can be grouped by expected date of parturition.
  • Increasing the time needed for postpartum recovery in cows and first-calf heifers.
  • Allowing for greater use of superior sires through artificial insemination (AI) or by natural service.
  • Increasing calf performance and weaning weights due to earlier birthdates in the calving period.
  • A more uniform calf crop in size and age, which can be a potential advantage at marketing time.


The most limiting factor in AI programs is the proper detection of cows or heifers in estrus or standing heat. Estrus detection can be a very time- and labor-intensive activity, which makes AI programs impractical for some producers. The first step in deciding upon a synchronization protocol is for the producer to decide how much time, if any, is available for estrus detection or if estrus detection is even feasible. Several different types of aids for the detection of standing heat or estrus are available for producers. With some synchronization protocols, estrus detection can be eliminated because animals can be inseminated at a pre-determined time, known as fixed-time AI.Synchronization protocols that incorporate fixed-time AI not only synchronize the estrous cycle, but also induce ovulation at a pre-determined time to facilitate insemination.


There seems to be a concern from some producers that if the females are inseminated on the same day, they will all calve on the same day. Research (see Bader et al. 2005, Journal of Animal Science 83: 136-143) has shown that cows conceived on the same day gave birth to calves during a 16- to 21-day period, dependent upon the respective sire. These distributions indicate successful use of estrus synchronization will not result in an overwhelming number of cows or heifers calving on the same day.


In a Sunup classic from February 2020, Dr. Glenn Selk talks about estrus synchronization and how to choose what program is right for your herd.


A Rancher’s Thursday Lunchtime presentation by Dr. Jordan Thomas presented on The Latest in Synchronization and AI Tools and Systems.

Fly and Tick Season is Upon Us

Justin Talley PhD, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Entomologist


As most cattle producers know from year-to-year the fly and tick season is highly variable.  Some may have pinned their hope in a hard winter to reduce these external parasites but in reality, it may not influence the overall intensity or longevity of the season.  Regardless of the perception of how bad the fly or tick populations could be it is important to plan on control practices that are economical and allow the cattle to be efficient in their energy expenditures.


Cattle are impacted by blood feeding external parasites whether they are ticks or flies. Anytime one of these pests becomes excessive then it causes stress to the animals. Stress can be a result from the blood feeding activity or the animal’s reaction to these parasites when on the animals. Essentially, when cattle are infested with flies or ticks then they become less efficient in converting nutrients into weight gain or milk production for the claves.  This means they are utilizing energy in different areas to combat the stress from fly and tick feeding.  Another issue associated with some fly and tick species is the role they play in pathogen transmission into the herd such as anaplasmosis.


When considering how to plan for a fly and tick control program for your cattle operation then it is important to know the difference in application methods and their specific longevity in relation to adequate control. While most cattle producers prefer the ease of use of pour-on type products this method will only provide at most three weeks of control if these products do not have systemic activity.  Most pour-on products with systemic activity are those that are considered endectocides or within the class of macrocyclic lactones including ivermectin and moxidectin type products. These products will provide some suppression of blood feeding flies and ticks for up to 45 days.  However, cattle producers should always design their endectocide applications with internal parasites in mind not just flies or ticks.


Some cattle producers utilize cattle oilers or modified self-application devices but it is important that the majority of the herd be treated properly.  This means cattle producers need to monitor when animals interact with these types of devices to ensure that at least 75% of the herd is treated.  It is also important to utilize the proper kind of oil and be sure the pesticide is labeled for oilers or to be mixed with oil.  When evaluating these types of devices efficacy is somewhat improved when mixing the pesticide with #2 diesel or mineral oil.  This type of device provides adequate control for horn flies up to a month if the device is maintained well and only provide adequate control of ear ticks.


Insecticide ear tags are commonly used for ticks that infest the ears and horn flies. These devices utilize the animal’s behavior to spread the pesticide across the ears and back as the animal tosses their heads back in reaction to horn fly infestations.  This type of application will provide some level of control in this area for up to three months and in some areas where the fly and tick populations are not excessive it will provide up to four months of control.  It is important to rotate the type of pesticide class the ear tags belong to each year to limit pesticide resistance.


Sprays are still a common method among producers with smaller herds or producers with resources that allow them to treat the cattle while in the pasture such as ATV sprayers.  The approach to spraying cattle for flies versus ticks are slightly different in the coverage areas.  Typically, for flies you want to treat from the head to the tail until the animal appears wet but not to the point of run-off.  If treating for ticks then you will need to treat the poll of the head and the ears down through the brisket area for ear ticks and then thoroughly treat around the udders or between all legs when treating for other types of ticks.  For most tick treatments, you will need to apply the pesticide to certain areas more thoroughly than if treating for flies to allow for adequate coverage where ticks prefer to attach to cattle.  Spray applications should always be planned with some consideration of weather events especially significant rainfall that could influence the pesticide efficacy. A sound spray application will last approximately 2 weeks but other factors can influence the longevity of the spray such as moisture or cattle behavior that leads to dilution of the product such as when cattle cool themselves off in ponds.


Overall, when making decisions concerning proper techniques for fly and tick control cattle producers should consider that not all products will be as persistent as others. Also, all of the above applications can be combined with the use of an insect growth regulator (IGR) to sustain longer horn fly control but IGR products do not control ticks.


To see Dr. Talley discuss increasing activity of ticks in coming weeks on Sunup TV on May 15, 2021. 

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