The 2014 Texas calf crop is expected to be 2 to 3 percent lower than it was in 2013, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
“We’re projecting it to be somewhere around 3.8 million calves,” said Dr. Ron Gill, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist and associate animal science department head at Texas A&M University, College Station.
“Last year was kind of static, down a little bit from 2012,” he said. “We saw the big drop in 2011, but we do have a further contraction in the cow herd.”
Though there were reports of minor frostbite in calves born in the extremely cold weather this winter, it shouldn’t affect the total calf crop, Gill said.
“You may have a few burned tips and tails, but it won’t really affect the performance of those calves either,” he said.
There were also reports from AgriLife Extension county agents of livestock producers selling older calves early to give relief to drought-stressed pasture and rangeland. Generally, this is a strategy that will help pastures some and does not cause a severe financial loss, particularly with calf prices so high, Gill said.
“It’s a strategy that will also allow cows to regain condition, and that’s the reasoning we’d like to see people use,” he said. “If they pull those calves a little earlier than they might normally, it allows cows to recycle so we can have a good calf crop next year.”
Five-hundred weight calves are bringing $1.70 to $1.80 per pound on a national level.
“Of course, regionally those prices will be different according to the quality of the calves,” Gill said.
With wheat around $7 plus per bushel, the other issue producers face will be whether to pull stockers off wheat pasture or find cattle to graze it out, Gill said.
“That will be the deciding factor for some, as there are just not that many cattle available,” he said. “So I expect some of the better wheat will come out for grain production, and they will concentrate those calves that are available on some of the lesser wheat producing areas.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Thanks to mild temperatures coming mid-to-late week, producers were able to resume fieldwork, including applying fertilizer. Wheat and oats began to show moisture stress. Livestock tolerated the dry, cold weather very well. Producers were providing supplemental feed to cattle. Small grains needed rain and warmer temperatures to begin growing. Stock tank and river levels were up.
Coastal Bend: Soil temperatures at planting depths were relatively cool and may delay planting. Row crop producers planned to plant as soon as temperatures stabilized. The recent cold weather, and, in some areas, rain, delayed fieldwork. Most growers had applied fertilizer and herbicides. Wheat was in good condition. Canola began to flower. Additional rain was needed for planting. Cattle producers continued to provide supplemental feed and hay as winter pasture conditions were at best mediocre.
East: The region received more cold and wet weather early in the week. Several counties reported minor tree damage from ice accumulation. Cattle were consuming more hay and supplements as they stayed near hay bunks during stressful weather. The end of the week brought warmer weather and sunshine that spurred the growth of ryegrass and other cool season forages. Soils in some areas were saturated from the recent rains, making driving conditions difficult in pastures. Cattle were in good condition. Calving continued with many new-crop calves already on the ground. Lice population was building on some herds. Wheat was hurt by cold weather. Vegetable growers were breaking ground in preparation for spring planting. With the abundance of subsoil moisture, most spring crops were expected to get a good start. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: Early in the week, the region had extremely cold weather, with warmer conditions later in the week. The warmer temperatures allowed producers to start preparing ground for cotton planting. Wheat remained dormant, and insect activity was light to almost nonexistent. Several producers started pre-watering cotton ground. Most cowherds were in the middle of calving season, with some early herds finishing up. Some calves born on very cold nights had frostbitten ears. Producers were still putting out protein cubes and syrup to improve livestock nutrition.
North: Winds continued to dry out soils. Topsoil moisture ranged from short to adequate across the region. More cold weather came, with some ice, sleet and a little snow early in the week, but no significant rain. Winter pasture grasses needed warmer weather and sunlight for growth. Livestock were in good condition with moderate increases in supplemental feeding. It was the middle of calving season, and there were no reports from calf losses during the recent cold fronts.
Panhandle: Once again, temperatures started out cold and windy but were near average by mid-week and above average by the weekend. Some areas received precipitation, but the entire region needed more. Soil moisture continued to be short to very short. Producers were doing various kinds of fieldwork, preparing for spring plantings, fertilizing, spreading compost and starting pivots on winter wheat. With low subsoil moisture, producers were trying to decide what to plant this spring. Wheat was falling behind normal development due to the extremely cold weather during the last month in many areas of the region. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to very poor condition. Livestock producers continued to supplement cattle.
Rolling Plains: The weather was beautiful. All the recent snowfall had melted, and temperatures reached up into the 70s and 80s. Farmers began to prepare fields for the new growing season. In some areas, producers who were plowing found that subsoil moisture was relatively high thanks to the snow and rain during the past several months. With adequate soil moisture, pastures and rangelands were holding their own in some counties, but more rain would help pastures and winter wheat. In other areas, moisture that came with the snow was rapidly depleting because of high winds. Stock tanks and lakes still needed runoff water. Livestock continued to be supplemented and were in good condition. As cattle prices remained high, ranchers were beginning to sell off older calves to reduce the grazing pressure on pastures. Producers who were lucky enough to have a wheat crop were moving calves to it for weaning.
South: The region remained dry, with daytime highs from 60 to 80 degrees and nighttime lows in the upper 20s and 30s. In the northern part of the region, Brooks County received a hard freeze early in the week. Irrigated wheat and oats continued to develop well there. In McMullen County, cattle body condition scores began to decline as the calving season continued. The eastern part of the region was dry and very windy. Soil moisture there was short to very short. Jim Wells County received some light moisture, which helped wheat, but a significant rain was still needed to improve other crops, as well as rangeland and pastures. In the western part of the region, winter oats were doing well, and producers continued to irrigate cabbage, onions, spinach and small grains. In Zavala County, wheat and oat growers hoped for rain as the crops entered the seed-head development stage. Also in that area, spinach harvesting for processing was very active. Supplemental feeding of livestock was ongoing. In the southern part of the region, soil moisture was short to adequate in most of the area except for 60 percent adequate in the Cameron County area and 85 percent adequate in the Willacy County area. Cameron County reported a light drizzling rain early in the week. Temperatures warmed up in the middle of the week, helping producers begin land preparations. Low soil temperatures discouraged planting. In Starr County, spring vegetable planting was underway, and onion crops progressed well. Livestock were in good condition, and supplemental feeding continued.
South Plains: The wide swings of temperatures continued. At the beginning of the week, high temperatures didn’t rise above freezing in most counties. By the end of the week, highs were in the upper 80s. Only Garza County reported any significant moisture, which was in the form of snow. Most counties were still suffering severe drought conditions. Producers were preparing for spring planting by cutting stalks and shaping beds. There was less supplemental feed being given to cattle as weather warmed in Garza County, but elsewhere producers were supplementing their cattle due to drought conditions. Dryland winter wheat growth was minimal, while irrigated wheat was maintaining its condition but not flourishing.
Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely. Most counties reported adequate levels, with some counties having from 100 percent very short to as much as 80 percent surplus. Rangeland and pasture conditions varied widely too, from very poor to fair, with poor to fair ratings being the most common. Even after recent precipitation, Brazoria County was mostly dry due to warmer temperatures and the high winds. Livestock there were in good condition, and farmers were planting corn later than normal due to the lack of subsoil moisture and worries about extended cold weather. In Fort Bend County, the weather was dry and cloudy, with nighttime temperatures in the low 30s and daytime highs in the 60s. Cold temperatures in Montgomery County slowed the growth of winter annuals. In Orange County, winter weeds were rapidly growing.
Southwest: Warmer temperatures caused trees to bud and hardier weeds to emerge. Rangeland and other crops further declined due to dry conditions. Producers were preparing fields for planting corn and cotton. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle and efforts to make water accessible for both livestock and wildlife.
West Central: Temperatures fluctuated widely, and very dry, windy weather prevailed. Soil moisture continued to decline. High winds and no moisture raised the risk of wildfire. Farmers were preparing fields for spring planting as weather permitted. A few producers were finishing planting wheat. The cotton harvest was complete. Most ginning was completed. Small grains were stressed by the extremely cold weather. Most wheat was dormant due to low soil moisture and cold temperatures. Rangeland and pastures were in poor condition. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued to increase. Livestock remained in fair condition.