Cow/calf producers should reconsider their culling strategies

By Emily Wilmes
University of Minnesota Extension

For many cow/calf producers, current market conditions have caused them to seriously rethink how they make culling decisions. Jim Krantz, a cow/calf specialist with South Dakota State University, says low national cattle inventories indicate potential for continued profitability in the cow/calf sector for several years to come, but the figures may also alter many historic recommendations on culling cows.

Typically, cows are culled because they are open, have age or teeth concerns, or are simply unproductive. These culls account for about 80 percent.

The other 20 percent are due to producing small calves, disposition problems, injury, udder problems and, in some cases, eye concerns.

Open cows are usually the first to be culled, followed by those with feet, teeth and eye concerns.

Late-calving and older cows are typically the next to go. Some producers may cull cows with disposition problems ahead of older or even injured cows.

Reasons for culling are dependent on two things: the producer’s preference and market conditions.

Current market conditions are greatly affecting the way producers traditionally cull their herds.

The one constant is open cows — in any market condition, an open cow is still one that is losing the producer money.

However, late-calving cows may get a second chance and stay with the herd. Reproductive technologies and nutritional adjustments can make it possible to move this category of cows more in line with the rest of the herd.

Of older and injured cows, Krantz says, “With the increasingly limited grazing acres available, those physically-challenged and older cows may be great candidates for partial or total drylot management programs. Those systems have the potential to extend the productive lifetime of cows that could still produce calves under more intense management that would otherwise be culling candidates in a grazing based system.”

Although temperamental cows find no favor in any culling system, producers may want to consider keeping them due to their potential economic value. However, these cows should be considered on an individual basis. Some cows just need to go, but others that only cause occasional problems may be worth keeping.

Although it may be beneficial to hold on to more cows in today’s market, keep in mind that culling makes up 15-20 percent of the profit of a cow/calf operation. Culling strategies have not changed much over the years, but taking the time to reconsider your priorities may greatly benefit your operation.

If you have additional questions about cow/calf management, call me at the Stearns County Extension Office at (320) 255-6169.