In the late 1990’s requests were made of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to develop a survey to measure the number of steers and heifers being grown on pastures during in the winter months. The result was a scaled-down effort focusing on the key small grain grazing in three states, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas that was first reported in the January 1, 2001, annual Cattle report.
The bulk of that grazing occurs on wheat in southern Kansas into central Oklahoma and blended pastures (e.g., wheat and rye) southern Oklahoma into Texas. In Texas, there is extensive grazing of winter oats and similar crops. Many of the wheat pastures are dual purpose (grazed beginning in midfall into the winter months) and then subsequently harvested for grain.
Over the last 18 years, the number of cattle reported in the 3-state grazing total on small grain pastures as of January 1st has been quite variable. The average was about 2.1 million head. However, that total has not exceeded 2 million animals since 2007’s count. The maximum was 3.70 million (2003), and the minimum was 1.34 million (2013). As of January 1, 2018, there were 1.50 million head, the lowest since 2013. In 2016 and 2017, there were 1.90 and 1.80 million head, respectively.
The 3-state January 1 count over the last four years has represented between 4.2% (2018) and 5.8% (2015) of the U.S. prior year calf crop. In this year’s mid-year survey, NASS has a preliminary 2018 calf crop of 36.5 million, a year-over-year increase of 692,000 head (1.9%). That’s the largest since 2007, and as noted above that was the last time the 3-state survey reported over 2 million cattle.
Although no animals have even been placed yet onto Southern Plains wheat pastures, as indicated in the prior article, conditions currently are quite favorable. Additionally, the cost and return estimates look positive, though that can change quickly. Cattle moving through winter grazing in the 3-state region could be well above last year’s. As of January 1, 2019, the 3-state total could be 1.8 to 2.0 million head. At that midpoint (1.9 million head), it would indicate the number of head winter grazing has increased from the prior year by 400,000 head (up 27%). That number would go a long way in absorbing the growth in this year’s national calf crop, but it may also bunch-up sales of short yearling animals coming of those pastures as early as mid-February.