COLLEGE STATION – “Don’t chase the moisture.”
That’s the advice of a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert to livestock producers who are considering planting winter forages or rebuilding herds at this time in hopes it may rain.
With 85 percent of the state still under drought conditions, and climatologists predicting the drought may continue or worsen in the coming months, it’s wishful thinking that there may be enough rain for winter forages to emerge, much less maintain growth, said Dr. Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension state forage specialist, College Station.
“I would certainly give heed to these drought monitors and forecasts, and would ask producers that wherever they are with their stocking rates right now to keep them or even consider further culling,” Redmon said.
Not only do climatologist predict a droughty fall for much of the state, but the long-range forecasts are for five or more years of continued drought, he said.
“If that’s the case, we don’t need to be chasing the moisture with our cow stocking rates,” Redmon said. “That’s always a loser for you, because you’re buying when the cows are high and selling when cows are cheap.”
Instead, he recommended a watchful-waiting strategy. If there are substantial good rains next spring or summer, and producers need to use up the resultant flush of grass, they can always get some calves or lease out the grazing, he said.
Though hay supplies are certainly better than they have been in the last couple of years, stocks remain low, according to Redmon.
Of course, many winter wheat producers will probably go ahead and plant, rain or not, he said.
“When you’re in that business—and there are not any hobby wheat farmers—when that’s your primary source of income, they’re probably going to plant into a dry seedbed and hope they get enough moisture to get that crop up,” Redmon said.
But as for livestock producers for whom wheat is not their primary source of income, the better strategy will probably be to use stored hay for winter feeding, though it’s a more expensive option than if they have winter grazing, he said.
In Texas, winter wheat and most cool-season forages are planted six to eight weeks prior to the first historical frost date, he said.
“Just a little bit of moisture is not going to get them by,” Redmon said. “What they need is not only enough moisture to germinate the seed, but adequate moisture in the profile so those roots can grow into a moist soil.”