Prepare For Drought, Beef Specialist Says

The potential for a dry summer in the Plains has many cow/calf producers examining their herds, looking for a possible cull candidate or two.

Key to dealing with weather issues is good planning, and that means getting ready for modified stocking rates and good cattle sorting, writes Kris Ringwall, beef specialist at North Dakota State University.

The latest US Drought Monitor from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions in two bands stretching out from California’s now infamous excessive drought.  The first reaches northeast and culminates in North Dakota and northern South Dakota.

The second fork covers Arizona, nearly all of New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, most of Oklahoma, all of Kansas and parts of Nebraska and Missouri.  All of it holds good pasture land.




A critical part of herd management is dividing the herd into five subunits, he wrote.  Typically, this means 20% replacement heifers, 15% first-calf heifers, 5% dry cows, 10% dysfunctional or older cows and 50% mature cows.

Each subunit has a different potential for profit and herd longevity.  They offer managerial flexibility like the ability, if not the desire, to decrease stocking rates because of drought.

The key to a stocking-reduction plan is to have the cattle available to market, Ringwall wrote.  Having to round up the whole herd to pull out a few uses valuable feed and delays implementation of forced culling.

Better to have a plan in place and to pull out potential culls when they are gathered naturally, like at spring branding time.  He suggested starting a unit of fall cull possibilities in the spring and keep them accessible.  If dryness presents a problem during the summer, they can be marketed more easily.

As potential replacements, first-calf heifers and replacement heifers account for more than a third of the inventory, he said.  Having an alternative feeding plan for these subunits adds flexibility to dealing with mature cows.

Dry-lotting heifers and/or first-calf heifers may be all that is needed to address pending grass shortages.  Besides, they are easier to haul and generally already are sorted, making adjustments more manageable.

If summer rain is doubtful, paring the number of older cows may be necessary, and doing it sooner rather than later often is the best option.  In years where pasture is questionable, Ringwall suggested close scrutiny of unsound cows:  those with poor udders, poor mothers, wild mothers, ornery cows or those with any other negative notation in the calving book.  The goal should be establishing a subgroup equivalent to 10% of the cow herd.




Cash cattle markets Wednesday remained quiet with scattered packer bids of $127 per cwt on a live basis and asking prices around $134.  In dressed markets bids were posted at $208, down from $209 to $210 on Tuesday with asking prices undefined.

Cattle last week traded at mostly $134 to $135 per cwt on a live basis, up $1, and at $214 to $216 dressed, unchanged.

The USDA’s choice cutout price Wednesday was up $0.09 per cwt at $222.77, while select was off $0.98 at $212.96.  The choice/select spread widened to $9.81 from $8.74 as 111 loads of fabricated product were sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Tuesday was $154.07 per cwt, down $0.47.  This compares with the Apr CME settlement Wednesday of $149.40, down $0.77.