With 58% of Missouri pastures in deplorable condition, cattle producers are culling heifers and monitoring their pastures.
“Cattle producers are dealing with varying degrees of drought and forage resources,” says Patrick Davis, a University Missouri Extension livestock specialist.
On Monday, USDA reported Missouri’s pasture condition as 33% very poor, 25% poor, 29% fair, and 13% good. There is no excellent pasture in the state.
Drought conditions have increased the presence of perilla mint, a toxic summer annual. The University of Missouri Extension says farmers have reported illness and death in cattle that may have ingested the plant.
In good pasture conditions, cattle tend to eat around the weed, but when pastures are thin or overgrazed, ravenous cattle eat what is available to them, says Tim Evans, a University of Missouri Extension veterinary toxicologist.
To help reduce stress on parched pastures, some Missouri cattlemen have been culling their replacement heifers. The Missouri Department of Agriculture weekly market reports that the supply to auctions consisted of more heifers than steers and bulls, an indication that drought pressure is increasing.
Out of 20,601 head of cattle sold the week ending Aug. 5, 15% were replacement heifers. The previous week, of the 23,855 head of cattle sold, only 6% were replacement heifers.
Nation’s Overall Cowherd Decreases
Cow numbers are decreasing in Missouri this summer and across the United States. USDA reports that more cow-calf farmers are sending animals to feedlots to reduce pasture stress.
In the USDA biannual July Cattle Inventory report, the nation’s cowherd totaled 95.9 million head, a 3% drop from the 98.6 million head reported in July 2022.
As of this year, breeding cow numbers dropped 2% from the 39.6 million head reported in 2022. Replacement heifer herd size fell 4% from the 15.6 million reported last year.
Derrell Peel of Oklahoma State University says herd liquidation will most likely continue as drought conditions intensify and calf prices increase.
Missouri Drought Details
The most recent Crop Progress report rated Missouri’s topsoil moisture as 12% very short, 37% short, 43% adequate, and 8% surplus. Subsoil moisture was rated 27% very short, 32% short, 40% adequate, and 1% surplus.
Missouri’s Crop Progress and Condition report noted the state saw heavy precipitation the week ending Aug. 6, bringing several inches of moisture. Across the state, rainfall ranged from 6 to 10 inches. However, the recent rains did not pull the state out of drought.