Oklahoma’s continuing drought will likely reduce the amount of winter wheat available for grazing this winter and result in additional cattle-herd reductions, says Darryl Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist.

“The extreme drought conditions have resulted in severely reduced hay and pasture production and now seem likely to limit winter wheat forage to a small fraction of normal production,” says Peel.

The number of feeder cattle outside of feedlots in the state has averaged 2.3 million head on Jan. 1 the last 10 years.

“This value includes roughly a million head of stocker cattle that are brought into Oklahoma for winter grazing in addition to stocker cattle retained from Oklahoma’s 1.9-million-head calf crop. These in-shipments of cattle will be drastically reduced given current prospects for winter wheat pasture.”

Many calves have already been marketed as early weaned calves and have been moved to feedlots or to better forage out of state. That, combined with few calves brought in as stockers, may reduce the state’s Jan. 1 feeder cattle numbers by a million head or more.

Dual-purpose or forage-only winter wheat generally needs to be planted by mid-September to produce significant fall and winter grazing, Peel says. But planting prospects looked dim in early September given the lack of soil moisture.

“Though more typically used for stocker grazing, for many cow-calf producers, winter wheat pasture represents the last hope for winter forage for cow herds this year. If wheat pasture were to develop this fall, a high proportion would likely be used to support cows and replacement heifers compared to stocker production. Although many cows have already been liquidated, additional liquidation is eminent without winter wheat pasture. The lack of wheat pasture and other forage also means that fewer replacement heifers than normal will be retained this year.”