According to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert, Texas cattle producers need to plan ahead and be prepared for scenarios that position them well to capitalize on a potentially strong post-drought cattle market.
Jason Cleere, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension statewide beef cattle specialist, Bryan-Collec Station, said cattle producers, especially those affected by rainfall between now and spring, will need more cattle as they enter fall and winter. manufacturers face a number of problems and concerns.
Cleere said that with the outlook for the cattle market positive, producers need to minimize costs while increasing the productivity of their herds through these challenges.
According to the US Drought Monitor, rain events from mid-August to early September reduced the percentage of the state experiencing some form of drought. More than 99% of Texas was experiencing drought on August 2nd, rising to 78% on September 13th, but rising again to 89% on October 4th.
He said the next drought monitoring report is expected to show worsening drought conditions due to recent high temperatures and lack of rain. The weather is expected to shift toward an El Niño pattern by spring, but La Niña patterns, which typically bring warmer, drier weather to most of Texas, have left big question marks for producers.
Cleere said many producers still face tough decisions about their herds based on the potential cost of keeping cattle, based on their operating reserves and feed stocks. Some producers face decisions based on low pond or storage tank water levels.
Cow and calf prices are expected to increase following widespread herd consolidation in the state due to the drought, he said. Producers should design their winter plans based on available pasture, forage and hay supplies, as well as anticipated costs for supplemental feed.
The goal should be to maintain a good body condition score until calving season so those cows can breed again to ensure a good calf crop next year, Cleere said.
“I am optimistic about cattle numbers and future demand over the next few years,” he said. “We could be on track to be as good or better than 2014-2015, so we have to think about the calf crop going to market, pregnancy rates and extra feeding costs through winter. My fear is that producers will try to cut corners and that could affect the calf crop, productivity and getting the cows on time, which will affect next year’s calf crop.
Be efficient instead of cutting corners
Nutrition is not a place to cut corners, Cleere said.
Producers say they should aim for a body condition score of 5 for cows at calving. This provides a buffer for lactating cows that helps keep them in good condition as they recover for breeding.
There are several ways to increase the efficiency of an operation when it comes to animal nutrition, he said.
Cleere recommends testing the hay to determine its nutritional value and what types of supplements may be needed. Many hay producers have reduced fertilizer applications this season due to high nitrogen prices and hay quality may be below par.
“The hay supply is better than it was 60 days ago, but farmers will still cut it,” he said. “It’s a great idea to try the hay and let that effectively manage the supplemental diet.”
Producers should look at buying supplemental feed in bulk rather than by the bag or pricing other supplements based on nutrition per pound, he said. Total digestible nutrients per pound of feed is an important consideration because some cheaper rations may contain higher amounts of fiber, which reduces the energy value of the feed.
Cleere said manufacturers could also consider price bars to reduce waste.
“In wetter conditions, you can lose 20 to 30% of the cubes and see a lot of nutrients wasted on the ground,” he said. “The key is to look for efficiency in our feed management and get the most out of every dollar you spend.”
Winter pastures can be a good investment
At this point, warm season pastures come into play.
Investing in winter pastures, including ryegrass, can be another way to ensure efficient cattle nutrition, Cleary said. However, this option is highly dependent on whether the fields receive timely rainfall to promote germination, if winter temperatures are mild, or good stands are established and growing when spring greens up.
“There’s definitely an opportunity to control with rye, especially with a lack of hay in many pastures,” he said. “Fertilizer prices are down, but the question is whether there will be enough rain to get the rye pastures up and running in the spring.”
Cleere said ryegrass control in East Texas typically begins around Oct. 15, but few producers have prepared yet due to moisture conditions. Producers must be prepared to take advantage of positive weather patterns if they want to establish winter pastures.
During the 2011 drought, Cleere said his operation received its first rain the week of Thanksgiving. He oversaw the sacrificial pasture that was grazed with rye the day after Thanksgiving.
“It was a mild winter, we fertilized and got good rain and by the end of January we had a foot of rye,” he said. “It’s been a perfect winter for this, but it started with being ready for the rain.
“What’s positive is the numbers and indicators that we’re seeing good market projections,” he said. “The negatives are what we’re dealing with right now with the drought and the cost of everything. “We will need expected prices to see a profit and so we need to do everything we can to control costs without losing herd production.”