An unexpected arctic storm last week extended south across the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas and across much of Oklahoma. The storm brought timely and much-needed moisture in the midst of ongoing La Niña conditions that have kept the southern part of the U.S. warmer and drier than usual. Seasonal forecasts are for drought conditions to persist in current drought areas and expand eastward across the central and southern plains. While La Niña conditions are expected to provide the baseline weather tendencies through the winter, sporadic intrusions of arctic storms may provide intermittent chances of precipitation and will likely result in considerable weather variability.
The storm last week brought precipitation in a variety of forms ranging from snow in the Panhandle to significant ice accumulations in central Oklahoma with widespread cold rain and intermittent sleet. Electric power is still out for many thousands of customers almost a week after the storm hit and several more days will be needed before power is fully restored. Cleanup will continue for many weeks and the tree scars will be apparent for years to come.
Cattle were exposed to cold, wet conditions for several days last week. Cold stress reduces productivity and increases health problems. These challenges can be particularly acute for calves in the process of weaning or newly weaned and for receiving stocker cattle that are already stressed. Cattle with persistent wet hair coats have significantly increased maintenance requirements and often require more and better quality feed. The storm no doubt affected feedlot cattle across a broad swath of cattle feeding country and may impact feedlot performance and timing in the coming weeks. Across Oklahoma, several auctions closed last week and pushed cattle prices lower yet.
The upcoming Drought Monitor this week will reflect the precipitation from the storm. The Oklahoma Mesonet shows that the bulk of the state received from 1.5 to over 5.0 inches of moisture in the last seven days. The precipitation may revive chances for wheat pasture and winter grazing. The latest crop progress report showed that 86 percent of Oklahoma wheat was planted, ahead of the five-year average of 82 percent for that date. Wheat emergence was reported at 74 percent, well above the five-year average of 66 percent. Prior to the storm, 25 percent of Oklahoma wheat was rated as poor to very poor. Wheat condition should improve as the precipitation is reflected in the crop in subsequent reports. The wheat crop is generally poised to respond quickly to the timely precipitation. Stocker demand may pick back up somewhat in the coming weeks with improvement in the wheat crop. Seasonally large runs of feeder cattle are expected in the coming weeks and numerous value-added preconditioned calf sales are scheduled in the next five weeks.
Improved stocker prospects combined with a sharp recovery in Feeder futures markets last week may mean that the seasonal low in calf and stocker prices is past. March Feeder futures, the reference for winter grazing programs, increased by roughly $8/cwt last week, making stocker budgets look more attractive again.
(Derrell S. Peel is a livestock marketing specialist for Oklahoma State University.)