Cull Cows: More Than Hamburger

Cull Cows: More Than Hamburger

Cull cows have been somewhat overlooked in the grand scheme of beef production. While seen mostly as walking hamburger, cull cows are contributors in other ways.

“An awful lot of people think that cows are a by-product of our industry and that most of the carcass is made into ground beef. Pont of fact, that’s not actually correct,” says Keith Belk, meat scientist for Colorado State University.

Belk spoke about the various uses of cow beef during the Cattlemen’s College at the Cattle Industry Convention in San Antonio, Texas.

Arby’s roast beef is an excellent example of the type of lean beef consumers can get from cows. The roast is considered a sub-primal and is completely diluted of all fat before being brined, cooked and sold.

“These products are hugely valuable to the industry, so it is important for everyone to realize how much of the carcass is used as whole muscle cuts,” Belk relates.

In an audit performed at 19 plants specializing in processing cows, more than 43% of the product marketed came in the form of whole muscle products.

Recently there has been a shortage on cow beef with producers holding back females in an effort to increase herd numbers. This has led to increased price pressure on cull cows.

This type of situation makes it appealing to feed cull cows on a higher plane of nutrition that will fall into the white cow classification at packers.  “The idea is you feed that high concentrate ration and basically turn the fat color from yellow to white,” Belk adds.

There is also an opportunity to improve the growth of cows through the use of implants and other growth promotants that increase compensatory gain.

Belk says cows should be in good condition before being sold. A body condition score of from 3 to 5 would be ideal.

Cows also need time to replenish their muscle supply, so don’t market them right after calving.

Other notes from Belks presentation:

  • Cow carcass prices are seasonal and spike around the holidays, typically around days like 4th of July, Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
  • 38.1% of market cows and bulls are purchased directly from the farm or ranch, while 61.9% come from sale barns.
  • Cuts from the round carry a lot of value in cows because of the leanness.
  • Think about branding on areas of the hide that won’t ruin the leather which is of high value.  For instance branding up high on the hip would be better than on the ribs.
  • Bruising is the #1 quality challenge Caviness Beef Packers in Amarillo, Texas, faces. 
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