By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Drought advanced rapidly across Oklahoma in July. At the end of June, the Drought Monitor showed that 30.76% of the state was in some stage of drought (D1-D4) with another 15.15% abnormally dry (D0). Four weeks later, the July 26 Drought Monitor map showed that 100% of the state was dry with 99.81% in some stage of drought. In fact, 92.11% of the state was Severe drought (D2) or worse.
The northern one-third of Oklahoma received good rains of up to three inches in the last week. This will briefly push back drought conditions in that region, but triple-digit temperatures are forecast to return in August and little follow-up rain is in the forecast through the first half of August. Cattle producers will continue to face tough decisions in the coming weeks.
Rapidly advancing drought conditions in July pushed Oklahoma auction volumes higher as more cows were culled and increased feeder cattle numbers indicated early weaning of calves and early marketings of summer grazing cattle. Calf prices dropped into July as increased volumes of early weaned calves accelerated seasonal price pressure. Calf prices recovered somewhat the last week of July as cattle markets generally firmed up. Large seasonal supplies of heavy feeder cattle were also likely augmented by drought-forced movement of cattle off summer grazing programs though heavy feeder prices are seasonally higher through the summer.
The July volume of slaughter cows and bulls was more than double last year in Oklahoma auctions. The cull cow market was overwhelmed with prices sharply lower. In Oklahoma City, boning cow prices decreased from $89.51/cwt the last week of June to an average of $66.70/cwt the last two weeks of July. Around the region, boning cow prices were similarly lower from Kansas south through Texas. Cull cow prices generally decreased around the country in July with the sharpest decreases in the central and southern plains. In some markets, cull cow prices recovered slightly the last week of July.
Nationally, beef cow slaughter continued a double-digit pace in July. Beef cow slaughter through mid-July is up 14.1% year over year for the year to date. Year over year percent increases in beef cow slaughter may be smaller in the last part of year (compared to increased slaughter last year). However, beef cow slaughter would have to drop to a level less than 6% higher year over year for the remainder of the year before the annual beef cow slaughter would not be double-digit higher for the entire year.
Heifer slaughter, which represents decisions several months ago about reduced heifer retention, is up 3.9% year over year so far this year. The July 1 inventory of heifers in feedlots was up 2.9% over last year and confirms that heifers continue to be diverted into feeder channels rather being retained for breeding. The mid-year cattle inventory showed that the beef cow herd was down 2.4% year over year and the inventory of beef replacement heifers was down 3.5% from last year.
The beef industry is poised to see the largest single-year beef cow herd decrease in more than 35 years
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