Texas received rain at the right time for the crucial growing stages of 2023, so in spite of worsening drought conditions, wildlife populations have been able to survive, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Jacob Dykes, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, said winter and spring rainfall set wildlife up to have the food, water and cover needed during an extremely crucial period.
Having numerous water resources available during a drought year is extremely important for all species of wildlife, Dykes said. For the deer population, vegetation resources are as important as water resources, because deer get most of their water intake from the vegetation they eat.
“During a drought year, not only do they not get food because vegetation isn’t growing, they’re also not getting water from vegetation like they typically do,” he said. “We got extremely lucky this year when we received rain in the late winter and spring.”
Dykes said receiving the rainfall during the earlier months created enough vegetation to provide bucks with resources needed to recover from the rut and does the nutrition needed to support fawns, as well as created enough protective cover for fawns being born in late summer.
Landowners with available water resources will reap the benefits from last year’s dove hatch, as the number of mourning and white-winged doves in the state has greatly increased compared to 2022 and is above the long-term average for both species, he said.
“If you have water on your property, you’re in a good position to have doves,” Dykes said.
“Good habitat management will lessen the severity of stress on wildlife,” Dykes said.
Ranchers and livestock producers started supplemental feeding during the early months of the 2023 drought. He said these supplemental feeding programs can be extremely beneficial for wildlife as well.
Supplemental feeding in the summer can provide additional nutrition when bucks are putting the “final touches” on their antlers and does are entering the late stages of gestation or beginning lactation to support fawns.
“Anything you can do to lessen the burden during stressful periods helps,” Dykes said. “Wildlife management is not just important during hunting season, it’s important all year long.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Rainfall totals were variable but made little impact on ending exceptional drought conditions. Some areas received no rainfall, and soil moisture from previous rains had dried up. Temperatures cooled slightly but were still higher than usual. Some pastures began to green up, but it remains to be seen if enough growth can be made to produce enough forage to bale before the weather cools. Additional rainfall was needed to fill water tanks. Growers started purchasing small grain seed for planting and doing a round of soil testing. A few growers began planting wheat and oats, hoping for rain. Trees in some areas continued to show signs of stress and leaf loss. The drop in temperature caused some trees to enter early dormancy. Some cotton still needed to be harvested. Cattle prices dropped. Supplemental feeding continued.
Conditions remained dry but drought conditions improved slightly with rainfall. Temperatures were nearing 100 degrees. A few areas received scattered rain, which helped the dry conditions but did not impact the drought. Reports ranged from a tenth of an inch to over 2 inches in some areas. The rain should provide some green up and a possible final hay cutting before a frost. The rain also improved soil moisture conditions in a small percentage of areas. Farmers and producers started fieldwork that was needed. Cotton ginning was going well and almost at an end. Cotton harvest was 99% complete in some counties. Rangelands and pasture conditions for most improved, and, where stocking rates were reasonable, grass was growing ahead of the livestock. Other pastures and rangelands remained in poor to very poor condition. Pecans were in the gel stage, but many had shed due to dry conditions. Livestock were in good condition, but calves have been going to market ahead of schedule to relieve stress on the cows. Producers were keeping a close eye on water resources. Livestock producers continued to supplement with hay and protein.
Sporadic rain fell over parts of the region, and Marion County reported some areas received as much as 3½ inches of rain. Pasture and rangeland conditions remained poor to very poor. Subsoil conditions were very short. Topsoil conditions ranged from adequate to very short. Producers continued hoping for another hay cutting before the first frost. Hay supplies were coming up short. Water supplies dropped or dried up as well. Livestock were in fair to good condition, with some supplementation taking place. Armyworms were reported.
The district received approximately 1 inch of rain over the past week. Most cotton bolls were opened in the fields. Producers were starting to make decisions on harvest aids. A few producers started planting winter wheat. Pastures were improving and beginning to green up with the recent rainfall. Cattle and wildlife were in good condition.
Most of the Panhandle region returned to hot and dry conditions, while the southwest corner received some rainfall and hail damage. The scattered hail damaged some corn and sorghum fields. Across the region, winter wheat planting continued. Silage cutting continued, and corn harvest for grain was looking to start soon. Haying operations continued in summer annuals. Perennial forage haying was completed.
Scattered showers fell over most counties in the district. Temperatures were cooler but the weather remained dry. Most warm-season crops were harvested. Cool-season crops were awaiting planting. Moisture was needed to finish field preparation for cooler-weather crops. Pasture conditions were fair but stable. Later hay cuttings were less than average and dominated by weedy grasses. Livestock conditions were fair but decreasing due to a lack of available forage. Nuisance flies were still active.
Temperatures were much hotter this week, with most days in the upper 90’s and even the low 100’s. The region received scattered showers that improved rangeland and soil moisture conditions. The cotton crop was very poor due to previous drought and heat. Bolls continued opening and a few fields were defoliated. Field preparation started with spraying, and harvest should begin on the first of October. Corn was harvested. Milo was green-headed and growing. Conditions were favorable for wheat production. A couple of wheat fields were sown, and many growers were looking to plant more if more rain comes in the next few months. Generally, producers were not expecting to have a sorghum crop this year. More and more producers were applying for drought insurance. Pecans were opening in the shells, and the harvest of some varieties was expected to start within three weeks. So far, yields looked promising. Pastures remained very dry, with only a few weeds present for grazing. Livestock were in poor to fair condition. Livestock producers were supplementing with hay and feed during these critical conditions. Landowners were sending most of their stock to the market. All late sheep and goat kids have been shipped, and calving season started for some producers.
Although a nice rainfall went across the area, warmer temperatures continued, drying out the topsoil. Insect pest problems increased. Grasshoppers and blister beetles were plaguing vegetation. Several farmers and ranchers started planting wheat with the bit of moisture available. Several producers spread fertilizer in hopes of one more cutting before the first freeze arrives. Cotton remained in poor condition due to heat and moisture stress. Water levels in tanks and lakes continued to drop, and some tanks were completely dry.
Drought conditions remained across the district, with several counties having continued burn bans due to high fire danger. Some counties received rainfall that improved pasture conditions, but more was needed to sustain growth. With some areas receiving more rain than others, producers were preparing for the emergence of armyworms. The rice harvest was progressing. Ranchers continued hauling water to their livestock in areas without surface drinking water. Supplemental feeding continued. Cattle prices remained strong but were not consistent with the amount of cattle.
Hot and dry conditions persisted with little to no rain in sight. Some areas received no rain, and any moisture in the topsoil was lost to evapotranspiration. Harvest of row crops was completed, and preparations for wheat planting were evident. Rain missed most of the area, with only a few isolated light showers popping up briefly. Pastures continued to decline. Many cedar trees were turning brown and dying. Mesquite spraying season ended. Dove hunters were having some success this year. Although some rangelands had small amounts of available forage, livestock were being heavily supplemented. Producers were selling livestock in dramatic numbers. Supplemental feeding continued to be a necessity.
Conditions across the district remained hot and dry. Almost all cotton across the region has been harvested. Strawberry planting was nearly completed. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued declining, and rain was needed for producers to conduct fieldwork for upcoming planting periods. Sesame was in fair condition, and fall vegetables were being harvested and taken to market. Forage producers continued irrigating land to produce another cutting of hay. Cattle producers continued supplemental feeding. Cattle markets were steady as ranchers were culling and selling their herds. Dove season started with some of the most significant amounts of dove seen in 15 years.