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Strategies for culling cattle vary

Sept. 27, 2010 at 4:27 a.m.


By Sam Womble

We've all heard about the importance of culling cattle. When you figure the average cost to maintain a cow is somewhere in the neighborhood of $550 annually, it doesn't make sense to keep "problem" cattle.

I've learned over the years that a cull cow has different meaning to different people.

Some define a cull based on age, disposition, or phenotype, while others pay more attention to fertility, structural correctness and specific production criteria.

I was reading a recent Cattle Fax report and it was interesting to note that cull cows have increased in value significantly ($128/hd) since 2009 largely due to low cattle inventory numbers and increased demand for beef.

Culling criteria vary from ranch to ranch, depending on producers' goals and objectives, and from year to year depending on economic factors. Cattlemen should consider evaluating their cow base at least annually, say at weaning. This is a good time to evaluate body condition, structural soundness and fertility.

In my opinion, reproduction or fertility surfaces to the top of the list. If you've taken care of the cow by keeping her healthy and providing adequate nutrition then she should calve every 365 days. If she's open at pregnancy check she needs to go to town.

What about the cows that conceive a calf but fail to raise a calf to weaning? Unless they have traditionally been a good producer they should be culled.

Functionality comes second. If you have a cow that has some problems that limit her from being productive and raising a calf she should be culled. Examples might include: feet and leg problems, eye problems, udder conformation issues (bad quarters, large teats, ect.).

Next, I'd consider disposition. Disposition is one of those traits that is sometimes hard to put a dollar on. Cattle that have a bad disposition really can make life difficult when gathering, rotating pastures or penning. They can hurt themselves, other cattle, or more importantly, you.

Age would be the next criteria. Studies show that a cow is generally most productive between the ages of 4 and 9. The condition of a cow's teeth is indicative of her age. If her teeth are broken or missing, she should probably be culled.

Lastly, would be phenotype. This would be the opportunity to make your herd more uniform in terms of breed type, size, and productivity.

Keep in mind that culling cattle is difficult and the criteria order will vary from one operation to the next.

Whether you call it culling or selection, the result should be the same. The cattle that meet your criteria get to stay, those that don't go.

Sam Womble is a Victoria County extension agent - natural resources.

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