Pasture, Range Conditions Still Above 2014

Overall US pasture and range conditions are well above a year ago, but ratings declined slightly last week, beginning a seasonal slide in forage quality and quantity.

Thanks to a strong El Nino, grasslands east of the Rocky Mountains are much improved from last year, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.  Monday, the service rated pasture and range conditions as 3% very poor, 9% poor, 27% fair, 49% good and 12% very good.  In the same week a year ago, conditions were rated 4% very poor, 13% poor, 31% fair, 43% good and 9% very good.

But even last year was better than the average of the previous five years.  The Livestock Marketing Information Center graphed the added poor and very poor values, and it shows a marked decline in the poorest-quality pastures last year as rains began to make a comeback from years of drought.

The graph also shows a lower level of poor and very poor pastures this year.  The seasonal increase in the number of these poorer-quality forages, which normally begins in June, also was delayed to July this year by abundant rains and cooler-than-normal temperatures.

Forage quality begins to decline in summer as some cooler-season grasses go dormant.  Winter wheat graze-out also disappears in May or June, only to reappear in fall as newly planted fields show enough growth to support grazing.  Some of the cool-season grasses also make a comeback in the fall.

On a regional basis, forage quality is better in all parts of the country, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, the NASS figures showed.




Cattle producers have responded to the high prices for feeder cattle and the availability of more grass by boosting their herd sizes.

Calvings also were up in the July Inventory report for the second straight year, indicating a distinct response to market and weather cues to boost production.  The USDA report showed the number of cows and heifers that have calved at 39.8 million head, up 2.1% from last year’s 39.0 million.

The resulting calf crop was up 1.2% to 34.3 million head from 33.9 million.

Most of the increase in calvings was among beef type cows, which grew 2.5% to 30.5 million from 29.75 million in 2014.  Among dairy cows, the increase was only 0.5% to 9.3 million from 9.25 million.

Dairy calvings do not respond as greatly to pasture and range conditions as beef cow calvings because the milk market is focused on a product of mature animals.  Calves are a necessary byproduct of the dairy industry.

Of the categories in the July Inventory report, the number of beef cow replacements among heifers 500 pounds and over, is the least stable.  Many of these females that were earmarked for going into the beef herd July 1 can be shunted off into feedlots with any change in the markets or pasture conditions.  But the number of beef cow replacements was up 6.5% at 4.9 million head from last year’s 4.6 million.




Cash fed cattle markets Monday were quiet with no bids or offers reported.  Asking prices were expected to show up around $148 per cwt on a live basis and $236 on a dressed basis.

Cash fed cattle markets last week were lower, with live-basis sales at mostly $145 to $148 per cwt, mostly $3 lower.  On a dressed basis, cattle traded at $230 to $232, down $4.

The USDA’s beef cutout values Monday were higher.  The choice cutout was $232.27 per cwt, up $1.57.  Select was $228.88, up $0.65.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Friday was $215.70 per cwt, off $0.39, compared with Monday’s Aug settlement of $208.75, down $0.92.