Dry conditions limit winter wheat grazing

Jan 14, 2011
by WLJ

Despite the fact that we are receiving some snow in Oklahoma as I write this, it is extremely dry in most of the winter wheat grazing areas of the southern Plains. Dry conditions last fall made it difficult to establish wheat pasture in many areas and limited growth for winter grazing. With high feeder prices and limited feeder supplies, there is a lot of interest in how many wheat pasture cattle are out this winter and what will be the timing of those cattle into the market?

Wheat pasture conditions vary considerably in different regions and it is difficult to make an overall assessment. Most wheat pasture was planted late and developed late, delaying placement of wheat pasture cattle. High wheat prices may have limited grazing interest somewhat but attractive wheat grazing prospects remain much of the fall. However, emerging dry conditions truncated grazing prospects prior to Christmas so the overall window for placing wheat pasture cattle was fairly narrow. All of that leads me to the conclusion that the number of cattle on wheat is probably no greater than it was last year and may be somewhat less.

I traveled some over the holiday period and noticed a wide range of wheat pasture conditions at this time.

Most notable to me were several sets of cattle grazing extremely short or limited wheat. Those cattle will have to move very soon to other pasture or be marketed. The cold weather currently in place certainly means that no growth is occurring and the amount of lush wheat pasture is, I believe, quite limited. Cattle prices are attractive (though they may go higher yet), and strong wheat prices means that producers will want to minimize risk to grain yield. There seems to be little incentive to hold on to cattle, particularly if forage is short. I would not be surprised to begin seeing wheat cattle trickling into the market in the coming weeks. I don’t expect to see any sizable bunching of wheat pasture cattle or a noticeable “run” of any size going into early March. — Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist