Wheat pasture – long considered Mother Nature’s golden elixir for stocker cattle – had a major strike against it heading into this season. At best, there just wasn’t going to be as much of it as more wheat producers concentrated on the grain side of the equation and nixed grazing.

In fact, at 42.1 million acres, total projected winter wheat seeding is down about 5 million acres (9%) from last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The second strike is becoming more pronounced each day as dry weather is depleting the wheat pasture that was available.

According to Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University livestock marketing specialist, “The entire state of Oklahoma has gotten significantly dry over the past 90 days. Precipitation statewide is 29% of normal and roughly one-third of the state has received less than 20% of normal precipitation since October. The most recent Drought Monitor indicates that 71% of the state has some level of drought conditions. The driest regions are the south central and western parts of the state.”

Peel explains much of the principal wheat-production area in that state is in the driest regions; wheat-pasture conditions have deteriorated significantly in recent weeks.

“In many areas, the wheat has grown little or none recently and cattle are rapidly depleting available forage supplies,” Peel says. “Some stocker producers have already de-stocked and many others are faced with imminent de-stocking of wheat pasture. There were fewer cattle than average on wheat pasture this winter and the early and extended movement of cattle off wheat means there is little likelihood of a typical wheat pasture run of feeder marketings in late February and March.”

It’s no better south of the Red River.

Winter-wheat pasture in Texas has been mostly a failure, says Larry Redmon, AgriLife Extension state forage specialist. He explained Friday that current drought conditions in the state are much like in 2006.

“We haven’t cut the hay we normally would have for two reasons – drought and high fertilizer prices,” Redmon says. “Not only is our hay crop down, but it also has lower nutritive value. Those who are feeding it are likely having to feed some supplementation.” He adds that forages that went into the dormant, winter season were already stressed.

According to Rick Machen, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist in Uvalde, recent reports of cattle dying from drought-related circumstances in the state further demonstrate the degree of the challenge.

According to Agricultural Marketing Service analysts last week, “Drought conditions in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have become severe after one of the best early-fall years in recent memory. Wheat cattle are being moved off dusty pastures and filling vacant area feedlot space or dropped off at local sale barns. Auction receipts remained swelled again this week from these displaced stocker/feeders, plus the late arrival of calf crops from producers who normally would have sold before the end of last year, but held on for a better market.”