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Cow culling considerations

00:00AM Sep 22, 2008

With the recent changes in feed and pasture costs, many producers are searching for ways to improve feed utilization, improve herd efficiency, and reduce feed and pasture costs, according to Daryl Strohbehn and Byron Leu, Iowa State Extension beef specialists. "The culling approach can be an important part of this management plan," they add.

Traditionally, the culling process is initiated following weaning in the fall and represents 10-20% of the cow-calf operation's gross income. Through the culling process, most producers attempt to identify cows that are keeping the operation "in the game” and culling those that are costing the operation money.

The list of reasons for culling can be quite extensive— but usually includes:

  • Cow reproductive status: Cows that are open or late calvers are strong candidates for removing from the herd. The decision process is often clouded because the producer needs to consider why the reproductive problem occurred.
  • Structural soundness: Cows with bad udders, feet and leg problems, history of prolapse problems, etc., are definitely short-term cows and should be on the culling candidate list.
  • Performance: The level of acceptable performance needs to be defined, measured, and fit the genetic goals of the operation. To best utilize these benchmarks, producers need to incorporate production measurements such as weaning weight, reproductive data, etc. Cows that are not raising an acceptable calf should be culled. Again, if the performance outcome was not the cow's fault, consideration to retain the cow should be evaluated.
  • Disposition: Cows with disposition problems should be culled…period.
  • Health problems: Health issues should be evaluated individually and culled if performance is negatively impacted.
  • Age: Performance of aged cows varies significantly, with most producers assuming acceptable performance levels for cows up to 8-12 years of age. Depending on dental wear and level
    of nutrition, individual cows can continue acceptable performance beyond that standard.

You can find more resources at Iowa Beef Center's Web site: