Grazing Conditions Declining Rapidly

US ranges and pasture conditions are declining at a faster-than-normal pace as winter wheat growth falls behind, leading some to worry about fall and winter cattle care.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will drop pasture and range condition reporting in two weeks, not to pick it up again until May.  Cattle producers will become increasingly reliant on baled grass and alfalfa to see them through the winter.

NASS data show US pastures and ranges in worse shape than last year as a whole but remain much better than the average as summer rains sustained better-than-average growth.  Baled hay supplies are not a concern for many, but it’s more expensive to feed than is wheat graze, and many report wheat growth is being held up by dry weather.

Monday’s National Agricultural Statistics Service weekly crop progress and conditions report showed US pastures and ranges rated 25% poor to very poor, up from 23% the week before.  This compares with a rating of 18% last year and 34.2% a year ago.

NASS also said 76% of the US winter wheat had been planted, compared with the average of 77%.  Emergence is up to par at 49% and well ahead of a week earlier at 33%.

But what NASS does not track at this time of year is the condition of the wheat after it sprouts and emerges, and Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist, said in an Extension report much of Oklahoma had received little rain in the past 30 to 45 days.  This, along with unseasonably warm temperatures, has delayed emergence and development over the last month.




But forage conditions are spotty, and even Peel says wheat grazing opportunities are better in the Panhandle region, resulting in stands that could be ready for grazing soon.

Northeastern US grazing conditions were the worst at 21.7% poor to very poor, NASS said.  The previous five-year average has conditions for the week at 14.1% poor to very poor.  However, a small percentage of US cattle are grown here.

NASS also reported that its western region pasture conditions had improved in the latest week and remain better than the 2009-2013 average, although not as good as last year.

Southeastern US pasture ratings have tracked the five-year average since early September.  What is significant for cow/calf producers in this area is that grazing conditions are significantly worse than last year.

In Monday’s report of conditions as of Sunday, Southeastern grasslands were rated 22.5% poor to very poor, compared with 13.5% last year and the average of 21.3%.

However, grazing lands in the Great Plains were rated 17.1% poor to very poor, slightly worse than last year’s 13.0% but well ahead of the 2009-2013 average of 31.2% poor to very poor.




Cash fed cattle markets were quiet Tuesday with no packer bids reported and asking prices at $140 to $142 per cwt on a live basis and at $207 or higher dressed.

Prices last week were mostly $134 to $136 per cwt on a live basis, well up from $123 to mostly $126 to $127 the previous week.  On a dressed basis, cattle traded from $205 to $214.50.

Wholesale beef prices Tuesday continued to move higher.  The USDA reported its choice cutout value at $215.38 per cwt, up $1.74 on the day, and its select cutout at $210.36, up $2.63.

The choice/select spread narrowed to $5.02 from $5.91 on Monday, and there were 93 loads of fabricated product moved into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Monday was $190.63 per cwt, down $0.15.  This compares with the Oct settlement Tuesday of $194.87, down $0.12.