Last week, I mentioned that we were preg-checking our cows. I’m happy to say that, following the ultrasound exams on our herd, our veterinarian reported that we had very few open cows. This allows us to be more discriminating in our culling this fall, and we’ll now examine other variables such as disposition, poor production or udder problems. As one reader aptly wrote, he selects cull cows with the four “O’s” -- open, old, ornery or odd.
Now that we have our culls sorted from our keepers, it’s time to decide the best way to manage and market this group of cows. This is particularly important because cull cow receipts account for 15-30% of income from the cow-calf enterprise, according to Cody Wright, South Dakota State University Extension beef specialist.
Wright offers five considerations for getting the best bang for your cull cows.
1. Hit the cull cow market at its peak time.
“In the Northern Great Plains, the market is generally the highest in the late spring and early summer months and the lowest in the late fall and early winter,” says Wright. “During the fall and early winter, many producers are weaning and preg-checking the herd. Consequently, large numbers of cows are likely to flood the market and depress prices. Any strategy that can be implemented to market cull cows outside of this seasonal price trend can help improve revenue.”
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2. Consider feeding cull cows to delay marketing.
“Cows can be fed for a period of time to delay marketing to more favorable periods,” says Wright. “Along with delaying marketing, feeding cull cows for a period of time can increase final weight and improve dressing percent and quality grade.”
3. Feed culls to improve quality grade.
Cull cows can be marketed as slaughter cows or bred females, depending on pregnancy status, of course. If choosing to market as fed or slaughter cows, the quality grade can greatly impact the price. Cull cows generally fall into one of five grades: Commercial, Utility-Breaker, Utility-Boner, Cutter, and Canner.
“More commonly, a mature cow older than four years of age, will fall into the bottom three grades, while a younger cow is more likely to be in the Commercial and Utility-Breaker grades,” says Wright. “It is possible for young cows to qualify for the same grades used for young cattle (Prime, Choice, Select and Standard).”
Wright suggests feeding cull cows a high-energy diet for as few as 50 days. He says this strategy can significantly increase the final weight and quality grade as well as the fat color.
4. Graze crop residues for cheaper gains.
It may not be realistic to keep a group of cull cows in a place where they can be fed a finishing diet, so grazing crop residues may be the most affordable option to add weight before marketing. This is typically what we do before selling, and we have found grazing corn stalks is a cheap way to add weight to both cull cows and pregnant cows going into the winter months.
According to Wright, “The general rule of thumb for gestating cows is 1 acre/cow/month. However, when feeding cull cows, it may be desirable to allow more acreage/cow to provide more corn for a longer period of time. Under these conditions, it’s not unreasonable to expect a cow grazing corn stalks to gain 1.5+ lbs./day. Over two months, a cow can conceivably gain 90 lbs., or approximately one body condition score.”
5. Pencil out the pros and cons of implants.
“Implanting cull cows can improve feedlot performance, carcass weight and tenderness,” says Wright.
There are several studies that compare the use of estrogenic and adrogenic implants on cull cows and how well they can improve daily gains, final weights, hot carcass weight, ribeye area and yield grade. Do your research before selecting an implant option and consider how long you plan to keep culls around to see if it’s worth the time, money and labor.
We are still debating whether to sell our cull cows as bred cows or slaughter cows, but we will certainly keep in mind these five considerations as we make our decision. How do you market your cull cows to get the best price? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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