By Dr. Joe Paschal
Most of the state’s calf crop is on the ground and looking good amid spring conditions, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service beef cattle and livestock specialists.
Most regions were helped by decent to good rains and warmer-than-usual winter and early spring temperatures, specialists said. Most cattle body condition scores around the state were good as herds had plenty of available forage and did not endure lengthy frigid conditions, even in North Texas and the Panhandle.
Specialists said most producers had completed calving and calves on the ground were generally 2-3 months old and looking good. Many producers were beginning to castrate, vaccinate and dehorn calves.
Dr. Ted McCollum, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Amarillo, said pastures and rangeland had improved dramatically following spring rain events. Grazing areas affected by wildfires in early March were beginning to recover as well.
McCollum said a count of total lost beef cows was not available but that he expects the number to be less than 1 percent of the approximately 350,000 head in the Panhandle-South Plains regions.
McCollum said he expected regional herd numbers to remain steady despite lower prices on cattle and damages to herds and grazing areas from wildfire. Dropping crop prices are driving some producers to enter the cattle market for alternative income, and regional cattle producers are holding on to replacements as they continue to restock years after severe drought in 2011.
“Cattle prices may have dampened enthusiasm, but producers in the region are not necessarily looking to reduce cow numbers because of the market,” McCollum said.
Dr. Joe Paschal, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist, Corpus Christi, said good rain and grazing conditions were allowing producers in most of southern Texas to make similar decisions regarding stocking rates. He said most areas in south and southwest Texas looked good but that pockets, such as Zapata County, are very dry.
“About one in four producers at every program I attend are saying they will be holding on to more replacement heifers than normal,” he said. “They’re cattle people. It’s what they do, and they want to raise a few more calves and have more weaning weight to sell.”
Paschal said fever tick quarantine in Live Oak County has not affected producers’ willingness to hold cattle but he is recommending diligence in watching herds for ticks they don’t recognize and signs of unusual infestations.
After three wet springs, conditions have “returned to normal” in West Texas, said Dr. Bruce Carpenter AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Fort Stockton. Carpenter said the region typically is dry in the spring and receives rain during the summer months but the previous three years were exceptional during the spring and summer.
Cattle haven’t been affected by the return to dry conditions yet, Carpenter said, and small rain events had occurred or were in the forecast that may help grazing until summer.
“We’re pretty dry,” he said. “There’s been no rain before a few days ago, but maybe that will be enough to get us to summer when typical weather patterns show up. I usually don’t give up hope until September.”
On the other side of the state, Dr. Jason Banta, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Overton, said the wet spring weather has ryegrass growing well and is setting conditions up nicely for Bermuda grass in the next few weeks.
“The calf crop in East Texas is pretty consistent,” he said. “Most producers are calving from December through March and conditions were good for most operations.”
Dr. Jason Cleere, AgriLife Extension, beef cattle specialist, College Station, said mild winter and spring temperatures, good rains and early spring conditions have cattle looking good. Some producers are beginning to work calves.
Cleere said winter pastures and warm-season forages were about two to four weeks ahead of a typical spring and timely rains through the summer would continue to help producers avoid some costs amid low beef prices.
“Cattle prices are what they are,” he said. “They’re one-third to one-half of what they were at their peak, but costs have risen, so from a producer perspective margins are tight. Shorter winter feeding, mild temperatures and good rain to allow producers to put up hay could help. Moisture always helps.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Storms produced large amounts of rainfall with some areas receiving up to 6 inches. Some areas flooded, especially along rivers and low-lying areas. Many fields with black soil were still holding water. Straight-line winds and some tornado damage was also reported. Tanks were full. Temperatures were normal for this time of year. Oats and wheat fields were having large amounts of rust. Corn fields looked good, and grain sorghum was rowing up nicely. Pecan producers were spraying zinc, and some sprayed fungicide. Small colonies of sugarcane aphids were present in ditches on johnsongrass. Cotton and soybean planting was hindered due to rain. Rangelands and pastures were in excellent condition. Summer green up was progressing with warm weather. Livestock were in great condition. However, fly pressure began to increase on cattle and livestock. No supplemental feeding was needed for range cattle.
ROLLING PLAINS: Conditions were very favorable for producers over the past few weeks. The district received beneficial rains, and temperatures were very pleasant. Pastures and rangeland were in good to excellent condition with only a small amount being poor. Livestock were in good condition with plenty of grazing. Winter wheat and grasses were growing. Stocker cattle were being shipped as they grazed out wheat fields. Farmers prepared fields and found adequate subsoil moisture.
COASTAL BEND: Despite spotty rains, many areas received timely rainfall in good amounts this spring. But range conditions were starting to deteriorate in some areas due to a lack of rain. Crops in general looked good. Early planted corn was beginning to tassel, and cotton was emerging well. Producers were working to control thrips in cotton fields. Rice planting continued. Herbicide and fertilizer applications were applied to pastures and hay fields. Livestock were in good condition, with many producers still trying to finish off winter ryegrass
EAST: Rain reported around the district helped dry conditions. Pasture and rangeland conditions were mostly good with Rusk County reporting excellent conditions. Wood and Trinity counties reported hard rains. Wood County had more than 4 inches of rain, and Trinity County had up to 2.5 inches. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate, with only Shelby County reporting as short. Oat conditions in Jasper County were reported as very poor. The cooler nights slowed forage growth. Producers applied fertilizer to hay fields and prepared for hay season. Vegetable farmers were planting crops. Onion and potato harvests will soon be underway. Cattle prices were solid in Shelby County, and calves were higher in Houston County. The bulk of spring calves were on the ground, and calf work was in progress. Flies were an issue for some producers. Livestock conditions were mostly good. Wood County producers were still feeding some supplementation. Wild pigs continued to be a problem in many counties. Smith County reported activity in pastures, yards and areas wild pigs were not spotted before.
SOUTH PLAINS: The district received beneficial and timely rainfall that ranged from 0.5 to 1 inch. Damaging golf- and tennis ball-sized hail was reported near Abernathy, Shallowater, Plainview and Slaton. A tornado was confirmed near Edmonson. The rains improved subsoil and topsoil moisture levels. Producers continued to prepare for planting. Many cotton producers were prepared for the rain by having fields plowed and pre-emergent herbicide applied. Much of the wheat was headed out. There were some cases of wheat streak mosaic virus and rust noted in fields. Pastures and rangeland conditions should improve with recent rains.
PANHANDLE: The weather was warm and windy. Rain reports were mixed, with some counties reporting none and others up to several inches. Field preparations continued, and some producers were getting an early start on planting corn and cotton. Across the district, more acres were going to cotton and fewer to grain sorghum this year. Some dryland sorghum was planted. The winter wheat crop was beginning to head out, with much of it reported in good to fair condition. Many acres of wheat were being grazed out or baled. Some dryland wheat did not survive from lack of moisture. Some soybeans were planted in Deaf Smith County for co-ops or to be marketed to area dairies for feed. Most pastures and rangelands were in fair shape with short to adequate subsoil moisture, though a few counties reported poor conditions. Cattle were in good shape.
NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus. Rain was received, with amounts ranging from 1-2 inches in most areas. Strong winds and pea-size hail caused some damage but nothing significant to crops. Cotton planting started but was delayed by rain. Bluebonnets were emerging. Livestock pastures looked very good, and cattle were doing well. Area reservoirs and livestock tank levels improved due to the rain.
FAR WEST: Temperature highs were in the 90s with lows in the 50s. Damaging winds occurred, and were still a concern for producers because of potential fires and drying out pastures. Precipitation reported averaged between 0.3 and 2 inches. Most rain soaked in and helped restore soil moisture profiles. Corn and sorghum started to emerge. Wheat looked decent, but leaf rust was increasing. Most fields will not be treated even if rust does get bad due to the poor economic outlook for wheat. Field preparations for cotton continued. Many producers were applying herbicides this year. Pecan trees needed irrigation. Supplemental feeding continued for livestock and wildlife. Marking of lambs and goats started and should finish by the end of April.
WEST CENTRAL: Weather was seasonable with mostly warm, dry and windy conditions. A few areas reported some scattered showers that improved growing conditions. All areas continued to need additional rainfall. Producers were preparing fields for cotton planting. Many producers started preparing pastures, and some planted Sudan grass for grazing and hay production. Summer annual forage planting was underway. Wheat was in fair to good condition. Corn and sorghum was planted in some areas. With recent rains, there should be good emergence in the coming weeks. Rangeland forages were growing well. Pastures were greening and looked good with plenty of winter grasses and forbs for grazing. Wildflowers continued to grow. Livestock remained in mostly fair to good condition. Spring cattle work continued. The cattle market remained strong and steady with good demand.
SOUTHEAST: Some areas were experiencing typical spring growing conditions. Waller County was expecting forecasted rain. In Brazos County, warm-season grasses continued to improve. A few cool nights slowed grass growth in Montgomery County. Insect populations were increasing. Livestock and pasture conditions were good. Rice was coming along well. Soil moisture levels ranged widely from adequate to surplus with most ratings in the adequate range.