Editor''s Notebook: What to Do with Cull Cows?

September 21, 2009 07:00 PM

Kim Watson-Potts
This time of year, as weaning season winds down, we place much of our focus on feeding and selling calves. But another area of the herd can also add to your bottom line and boost cash flow as well: cull cows.

In a typical cattle herd budget, cull cows account for 15% to 20% of the income in a given year, and that's no small change.

As you begin sorting cows and before sending them to auction or slaughter, consider some options that may bring in more value.

First, keep in mind the seasonality of the slaughter cow market. Typically, slaughter cow prices are at their lowest in late fall (October, November and December) because the supply exceeds demand. Then prices for slaughter cows typically peak in early spring (March, April and May). So if you have the ability to hold onto cull cows and feed them through winter, it can add dollars to your bottom line.

More to market. This year, the cull cow market has been complicated by the movement of more dairy cows into the slaughter mix. It's not the sole reason behind lower slaughter cow prices, but add it to increased supplies of other proteins and lower beef demand, and all combine to pressure prices.

While it's not known what impact the latest dairy buyout will have on the cow market, we do know that it will be finishing up just as most beef producers start sorting and sending cows to market.

Some other things to consider: Do you have the facilities or winter grazing to accommodate feeding cows? Do you have enough stored forage for both your herd and cull cows? Is the cost of gain low? Are the cows healthy? Can you bump the cows up a slaughter grade by feeding them?

It may be more economical to feed in your own drylot or run cows on available stockpiled forage if you anticipate having enough for the regular herd and the cull cows. Sometimes producers find it is even feasible to place cows in a yard, if they carefully pencil out the yardage fees and feed costs.

There are several online tools to help you analyze marketing decisions at www.beeftoday.com.

One of the resources there is a cull cow calculator from the Oklahoma State University Extension. The calculator helps you factor many production aspects before making cull cow decisions. You can access a direct link to the calculator and find more about what to do with cull cows this year under the "Marketing” category of the Cattlemen's Notebook section at www.beeftoday.com.

Good luck with marketing calves and cows this season.

Kim Watson-Potts, Editor, writes from San Antonio, Texas

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