Texas Field Reports: Summer Conditions, Forage Quality Can Reduce Cattle Gains

Photo: Kay Ledbetter, Texas AgriLife Extension

Don’t let the dog days of summer lead to declines in cattle herd performance, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Joe Paschal, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension livestock specialist, Corpus Christi, said livestock are entering a period he calls the “summer slump,” where weight gains and body condition scores can dip as animals deal with the heat and declining forage quality.

Paschal and Jason Banta, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Overton, said cattle in much of the state were experiencing typical summer conditions. Rains have reduced drought levels for most of the state, but as temperatures rise, moisture levels and grazing conditions could change quickly without additional rainfall.

“Overall, it’s shaping up to be an average summer here in East Texas,” Banta said. “Temperatures are rising, and some spots are getting drier. There’s nothing out of the ordinary that might drive us to do things differently than a typical year, so far. But we do want to put some effort into reducing the impact summer conditions can have on a herd.”

Summer forage funk

Banta said the drop in forage quality during the summer is the main reason some producers see daily gains slow. East and Central Texas typically see forage quality drop by mid-July as temperatures become consistently warmer.

“Forage quality goes down quite a bit according to forage species and temperatures,” he said. “So, you want to stay aware of your cattle body conditions because it can be difficult to improve body condition scores going into winter.”

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Producers can help mitigate losses with appropriate protein and energy supplements, he said. Banta recommends a 40% cube or similar high protein supplement.

Paschal said rains have improved grazing conditions for much of southern Texas east of San Antonio. Buffelgrass emergence and growth has also helped in southern parts of the state.

“Cow runs are slowing down, and less culling is going on now that people are cutting hay,” he said.  “A lot of people were worried about prices, but cull prices are holding up or are better than they were, and calf prices started moving up. A little rain eased the pressure for some folks.”

Paschal said ranchers need to pay attention to area market prices and focus on weight gains.

Gains in the shade

Summer temperatures can reach dangerous levels for cattle herds, but typically don’t in Texas because herd genetics are adapted to summer conditions, Banta said. But heat stress can negatively impact forage intake and impact body condition.

“Good access to shade to cool themselves from direct sunlight and a good, palatable water source go a long way toward keeping cattle comfortable in the summer heat,” he said.

Pest stress can impact pocket

Stressed cattle gain less weight, and pests can be an aggravation that can add to losses, Paschal said.

“External parasites like horn flies are always a problem, but how bad really depends from place to place,” he said. “Infestations depend on local conditions like warmer winter, which might allow more overwintering.”

Horn flies do migrate moving north as days warm, he said. They prefer warm days and humidity, and typically their numbers begin climbing in May and June.

A few horn flies are not a problem, but infestations of hundreds and thousands can stress animals and lead to other problems, including other parasites.

Horn flies can cause dermatitis making cattle itch and rub incessantly, which can lead to hide damage and infections and look bad at sale, Paschal said.

“They agitate the cattle more than anything,” he said. “But 200 horn flies can mean 200 drops of blood and the extra energy they’re burning to get relief by shaking and tail swatting.”

Paschal said treating animals with topical chemical treatments are a good way to relieve them from horn flies, but chemicals don’t work as well on other flying pests like stable or horse flies. Moving animals to another location where flies don’t reproduce and congregate or cleaning up areas may be the only option to reduce populations of flies and stress and injury to livestock.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL

Good rainfall helped pasture conditions dramatically. Areas received 1-2 inches of rain. Corn silage harvest began, and yields were fair for dryland fields. Producers were cutting and baling hay, but an increase in grasshoppers was reported. Cattle were in good condition.

Wheat and oat harvests were complete. Cotton was expected to benefit most from the rain. Cotton crop ranges from pinhead square to blooming. The rain will also help later-planted corn. Early planted corn was beginning to dry down. Cattle body conditions were good.

ROLLING PLAINS

Conditions continued to be favorable in the district. Areas received up to 9 inches of total moisture. Some producers were evaluating cotton fields for potential replants. Grasshoppers continued to be an issue. Cattle conditions continued to improve on abundant grasses.

COASTAL BEND

Spotty rainfall occurred with some areas receiving 2-5 inches. The rain helped as water demands in cotton increased while bolls were filling. Corn was drying down.

Sorghum was coloring well and being harvested in some areas. However, most growers expect sorghum harvest to be drawn out due to the high number of green heads that emerged after the late rainfall events. Good yields were reported in many of the harvested fields.

Rice was flooded, and some fields were starting to head out. Some hay was baled prior to the rains. Hay producers fertilized for subsequent cuttings. Pastures benefitted from the rainfall. Cattle remained in good condition amid stable prices.

EAST

As much as 6 inches of rain fell across a large part of the district. However, some areas needed much more moisture. Sabine County reported some producers were culling older cows due to dry conditions and subsequent forage shortages. Marion County reported ponds were full and pastures were growing.

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Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good overall. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Livestock conditions were fair to good. Cattle prices were low and uneven. Grasshopper infestations remained a problem. Producers were watching for armyworms. Wild pigs caused damage in pastures and hay meadows.

SOUTH PLAINS

Conditions were hot, windy and dry. Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels increased due to recent rainfall, but conditions had not improved much. Many crops were lost to hail during a recent storm. Producers were having to decide on a secondary crop. Cattle were in good condition.

PANHANDLE

Northern parts of the district reported short topsoil and subsoil moisture. Central areas reported short topsoil and very short subsoil moisture levels. Southern areas reported adequate to short topsoil and subsoil moisture levels. Scattered showers helped some areas and isolated hail damage was apparent on certain fields.

Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to very poor. Winter wheat harvest was complete. Corn was in good to fair condition. Cotton was in poor to fair condition. Soybeans were in good condition, and sorghum conditions were good to fair. Peanut fields were in good to fair condition.

NORTH

Topsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly short to adequate with reports of 0.5-3 inches of rainfall. A little rain and cooler temperatures helped grasses grow.

Saharan dust made for hazy conditions. Hay harvest continued. Tomatoes and sweet corn were ready in gardens. Pastures generally looked good. Cattle were in good condition. Grasshoppers were spotted in numerous fields.

FAR WEST

No report.

WEST CENTRAL

Conditions were hot and dry all week with no significant rain reported. Dryland sorghum was burning up due to moisture stress. Irrigated fields looked fair.

Irrigated corn was in good shape, but dryland fields were drying down. Dryland and irrigated cotton were struggling. Pastures were drying out, and grass fires were a growing concern. Livestock were in fair condition.

SOUTHEAST

A few areas received some much-needed rain. Rice fields were progressing. Livestock were in good condition, but flies were a consistent pest in pastures. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to poor with good ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to very short with adequate levels being most common.

SOUTHWEST

Scattered showers were reported, but conditions were mostly dry across the district. Corn and sorghum were progressing well. Peaches were being harvested.

Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Body condition scores on livestock were good. Cattle prices seemed to be rising while sheep and goat prices remained high. Shearing season continued. Wildlife conditions were fair to good with continued sightings of fawns.

SOUTH

Counties throughout the district reported mild weather conditions with very short to adequate soil moisture levels. Temperatures were around 100 degrees in several counties. Atascosa and La Salle counties reported trace amounts of rain up 0.5 of an inch.

Duval County reported 1-1.5 inches of rain. Live Oak County reported up to 6 inches of rainfall. All peanuts were planted. Cotton fields were in the match square to bloom stage. Cotton and sesame in Hidalgo County benefitted from recent rains. Corn harvest began in southern parts of the district but corn continued to mature and dry out in most other areas.

Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Hay cutting and baling continued. Prickly pears were burned to help wildlife and cattle. Vegetable crops like watermelons, cantaloupes and peaches were in full production.

Producers in Zavala County made irrigation water applications for cotton, sorghum and late-planted corn. Native rangeland and pastures were declining in most areas. Some producers were providing supplemental feed to cattle. Quality hay was selling for $120-$140 per ton.

Starr County reported rangeland and pastures continued to improve due to recent rains. Livestock markets were selling low volumes. Buffelgrass seed was harvested.




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