Cattle grazing pasture

Beef Herd Recovery Depends Partly on Pastures

Forage is improving, but drought's effects in Plains states are hanging on

Although forage conditions are better now in many locations, it is the residual effects of drought have forced more herd culling, Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist, said earlier this month.

Unexpectedly large beef cow slaughter in the first half of the year is also bringing herd numbers lower than expected.

"The 3.4% year-to-date increase in beef cow slaughter masks a more dramatic increase in beef cow culling since mid-March," he said.

Forage is improving, but drought's effects in Plains states are hanging on

After decreasing nearly 9% during the first 10 weeks of the year, beef cow slaughter has averaged more than 12% above year-earlier levels for the last 15 weeks. And although beef cow slaughter is expected to drop below year-earlier levels in the second half of 2013, it would take a severe decrease for the remainder of the year to avoid net beef cow herd liquidation in 2013, Peel said.

Just over half of U.S. pastures and ranges are in good or excellent condition, compared to only 25% at this time last year. Drought conditions are also better than they were at this time last year overall, but conditions are worsening in the western half of the U.S.

California, Colorado and New Mexico report more than 70% of their pastures and ranges are in poor to very poor condition. The middle of the country straddles the drought boundary and shows some improvement, with the Great Plains reporting about 30% of pastures and rangeland being in poor to very poor condition, compared to 45% last year.

Farther east, the Corn Belt currently has less than 5% of its pastures in poor to very poor condition, compared to 46% one year ago. The southeast is in a similar position.

While total forage production is expected to increase this year, hay stocks were at a record low in December and May, reflecting reduced production and increased use the past two years. Moreover, the cold spring has delayed pasture and hay production thus far, resulting in continuing short forage supplies, Peel said.

"Hay prices are up the most in the central and northern Great Plains states and the Midwest, as compared to the southern Great Plains states," Peel said. "In many instances, prices for other hay are up relatively more than alfalfa hay prices."

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported preliminary June prices have increased nearly 10% for alfalfa hay and 11% for other hay. The U.S. average alfalfa hay price was $220 per ton and the price of other hay was $147 per ton.

Peel said forage conditions and supplies are expected to improve significantly in the second half of 2013 in many regions, but these gains will be partially offset by persistent drought conditions in the western half of the country.

"Lack of forage to date has already provoked enough additional beef cow slaughter and likely diversion of potential replacement heifers into feeder markets to result in additional herd liquidation in 2013," he said. "However, a sharp decrease in beef cow slaughter and increased heifer retention in the second half of 2013 may set the stage for potential beef cow herd recovery, beginning in 2014."

Source: OSU

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