Much of Oklahoma has received significant rain in the past week that is particularly timely for winter wheat pasture prospects. The rains occurred in some of the driest areas of the state including the south west and south central regions. However, the northern tier counties received little rain and remain very dry. In all cases the rain does not solve the underlying drought conditions and additional moisture will be needed soon for continued wheat development. USDA-NASS reported last week that 21 percent of the Oklahoma wheat crop was planted, up sharply from this time last year (and from a week earlier) but just equal to the five year average for this date.
A significant portion of wheat pasture may be used to support cows this winter, much as it did last year. Many cow-calf producers are short of pasture and hay for the winter. Limit grazing wheat pasture combined with limit feeding hay is a good way to stretch hay supplies and minimize expensive supplemental feed needs. Although more labor is required for this type of feeding program, it may be a good investment relative to hay and supplement feed costs.
Wheat pasture also has good value for stocker production. In the past month, the sharp price break against lightweight animals has moderated somewhat, though the market still favors heavier beginning stocker weights, especially for dual purpose winter grazing programs that will terminate in late February or early March. For forage only programs that will graze out wheat until May, the additional weight at the end offsets somewhat lower value of gain on the initial animal gains. The current levels of both March and May Feeder futures is sufficient to lock in values of gain that range from $1.10 to $1.35/pound. These values suggest that winter grazing will cover a $150-$170/head grazing bill and other typical production costs and still return $70-$90/head to the cattle. For the four-weight steers, the net return may be in the $20-$35/head range for winter-only grazing. However, a light steer grazing out wheat until mid-May may have a wheat pasture bill of $285-$310/head but still has the potential to generate $70-100/head of net return over all production costs.