Tomorrow, our local veterinarian is coming out to ultrasound our cows for pregnancy status. While my husband and I are in expansion mode, my dad says he’s going to cull hard this year for late-bred or run-down older cows. That’s sound thinking, too, as the price of cows right now is pretty high, and it might be a good time to cash in on some of those poor-producing cows.
Typically, if a cow is open in our operation, we sell her. But there are certainly a variety of reasons that influence whether ranchers keep or cull a cow.
In a recent article entitled “Simple Math: Open or Problem Cows + Annual Costs Don't Add Up!” John F. Grimes, Ohio State University Extension beef coordinator, cites nine reasons for culling breeding females from the herd.
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According to the USDA’s 2007-2008 National Animal Health Monitoring System’s (NAHMS) Beef Study, producers were surveyked and the nine top reasons for culling females included:
1. Age or bad teeth; 55.7%
2. Pregnancy status (open or aborted): 41.8%
3. Temperament: 16.6%
4. Other reproductive problem: 13.4%
5. Economics (drought, herd reduction, market conditions) 10.9%
6. Producing poor calves: 10.7%
7. Physical unsoundness: 9.6%
8. Udder problem: 9.2%
9. Bad eyes; 7.1%.
I was surprised that pregnancy status wasn’t the top reason to cull a cow. We’ll allow an older, productive cow to stay on the place an extra year, even if her production is slipping a little bit, vs. keeping an open cow or one that has recently aborted. In my mind, at least the older pregnant cow will produce a calf, while the open cow gets free groceries for a year and produces nothing in return. And in this market, even a dud will more than pay the cow’s annual costs.
Grimes echoes that thought in his article and says that preg-checking is the most underutilized management practice available to beef producers. According to the NAHMS survey, only 18% of cow-calf operations preg-check their cows.
“In today's phenomenal cattle market, I don't believe there is adequate justification to keep open or problem females,” says Grimes. “Let's do the math. Based on local markets in my geographical vicinity last week, a typical sale price for a cull market cow was around $1.15/lb. That means a 1,200-lb. cow would gross $1,380 and a 1,400 lb. cow would gross $1,610. Now let's take a quick look at 2014 Spring Calving Cow-Calf Budget from the OSU Extension Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics Department. According to the budget, the variable costs (feed, health, marketing, supplies, interest, etc.) for a spring calving cow-calf pair are $525.89. This doesn't include fixed costs such as labor, land, animal replacement, building, etc. which pushes total expenses to $1,149.92! Some simple math will show you that the lost potential income from a cull female and extra accumulated cow costs do not add up to a positive number for the cow-calf producer.”
Do you preg-check your herd? Which factors play the biggest role in your decision to keep or cull a cow? 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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