Texas livestock producers are optimistic after rain fell on much of the state last week, further improving pastures and rangeland and raising soil moisture levels for spring planting.
“I think they have reason to be optimistic, but it’s dangerous to be overly optimistic,” says Ron Gill, Texas AgriLife Extension livestock specialist at College Station. “Yes, we have improvement in soil moisture, but the problem we haven’t gotten over is the deterioration in pasture and range conditions we experienced last summer and fall.”
Even with a wet spring, it’s likely to be a long time before grazing lands show full recovery, Gill says. Recovery of introduced warm-season pastures will depend on many things besides just rainfall. The extent of the drought or wildfire damage, the cost of fertilizer and stocking rates, both past and present, are all factors, according to Gill.
Another factor has to do with how the grazing lands were managed. Many pastures were stocked to capacity, and producers cut back on fertilizer before the drought because of cost. Because cattle prices were so high, many didn't downsize their herds, which led to further deterioration of forage conditions.
“If people can afford to apply adequate fertilizer, the pastures will recover fairly early this spring,” he says. “If we continue to get rain and they don’t fertilize and are still overstocked, then they will continue to deteriorate forage conditions.”
Gill says there’s been a lot of conjecture about the proper land-management strategy, but most producers are being cautious, knowing that their pastures are knocked back and worried about the cost of replacements.
“I haven’t seen many people jumping out there and trying to restock yet. If they destocked early in the process, conserved some forage and managed their pastures right, then they may have the ability to start adding cattle back pretty quickly.”
Even then, if they jump back into production and the rainfall patterns don’t hold, they could find themselves stuck with high-priced replacement cattle needing costly hay.
“The situation warrants being careful at this time,” says Gill.
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force Web site at agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.