Culling Cows & Why it’s Important for Herd Management in Beef Production

Did you know “cull” beef cows represent 10% of the beef that is consumed in the United States?

Therefore, ranchers should make certain that cow culling is done properly and profitably. Selling cull cows when they will return the most income to the producers.

Here are a few things we consider when picking out cull cows from the herd at Wieczorek Farms.

Is she good for another year? At cow culling time, producers often face some tough decisions. Optimum culling of the herd seems to require a sharp crystal ball that could see into the future. Will she keep enough body condition through the winter to rebreed next year? How old is the cow? Is her mouth sound so that she can harvest forage and be nutritionally strong enough to reproduce and raise a big calf? At what age do cows usually start to become less productive?

Other reasons to cull cows:

Examine the eye health of the cows. One of the important causes of condemned beef carcasses is still "cancer-eye" cows. Although producers are doing a much better job in recent years of culling cows before "cancer-eye" takes its toll, every cow manager should watch the cows closely for potentially dangerous eye tumors. Watch for small pinkish growths on the upper, lower, or corner eye lids. Also notice growths on the eyeball in the region where the dark of the eye meets with the "white" of the eyeball. Small growths in any of these areas are very likely to become cancerous lesions if left unchecked.

Check the feet and legs. Beef cows must travel over pastures and fields to consume forages and reach water tanks and ponds. Cows with bad stifle joints, severe foot rot infections, or arthritic joints may be subject to substantial carcass trimming when they reach the packing plant. They will be poor producers if allowed to stay on the ranch while severely lame. They may lose body condition, weigh less, and be discounted at the livestock market by the packer buyers. Culling them soon after their injury will help reduce the loss of sale price that may be suffered later.  If the cow has been treated for infection, be certain to market the cow AFTER the required withdrawal time of the medicine used to treat her infection.

Bad udders should be culled. One criteria that should be examined to cull cows is udder quality. Beef cattle producers are not as likely to think about udder health and shape as are dairy producers, but this attribute affects cow productivity and should be considered. I have found that cows with one or two dry quarters had calves with severely reduced weaning weights (50 - 60 pounds) compared to cows with no dry quarters. Plus, cows with bad udders tend to pass that trait along to daughters that may be kept as replacement heifers.

In addition, large teats may be difficult for the newborn calf to get it's mouth around and receive nourishment and colostrum very early in life. As some cows age, the ligament that separates the two sides of the udder becomes weakened and allows the entire udder to hang very near to the ground. Again it becomes difficult for the newborn calf to find a teat when the udder hangs too close to the ground. Select against these faults and over time your cow herd will improve its udder health.

Cull cows when in moderate body condition. Send older cows to market before they become too thin. Generally, severely emaciated cattle have lightly muscled carcasses with extremely small ribeyes and poor red-meat yield. This greatly lessens the salvage value of such animals. Just as importantly, emaciated cattle are most often those which "go down" in transit, as they lack sufficient energy to remain standing for long periods of time. Selling at a decent body score allows the better price.

Cull any really wild cattle. They are hard on you, and your equipment, and they raise wild calves. Wild calves are poor performers in the feedlot as well. You have to be mindful. We have our children with us - we can’t afford to be ran over.

Cull open cows. Why feed a cow all winter that will not have a calf next spring? Call your veterinarian (or like us, we do ourselves), schedule a time for pregnancy checking and find which cows have not bred back. Cull them while they are in good body condition after summer pasture and before you spend $200 or more on the winter feed bill.

Hope you received some benefits from our culling process!

Kayla Wieczorek,

You can watch the corresponding VLOG,

Vlog 140: Culling out Cows & a Surprise?!

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