Written by Dr. Megan Van Emon, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
One area of the beef cattle market that is easily overlooked is the cull cow market. Most cows are culled because they do not re-breed or produce a small calf at weaning. It is important to remember that cull cows have potential to provide an additional source of income for the ranch. Here are a few tips to consider when culling your cows.
- Cull Cow Market. The cull cow market varies throughout the year, with the lowest prices occurring between September and December. This occurs as many producers are weaning during this time period and flooding the market with cull cows. If it is economically viable, selling cull cows early in the summer or hold them over winter and selling in the early spring may improve cull cow prices.
- Feeding Cull Cows. Feeding cull cows after weaning can improve body weight, body condition, and quality grade. Determining feed costs and cost of gain for cull cows will determine if it is economically viable to keep cull cows to receive a better market price in the early spring.
- Feed Sources. Cows should be adapted to a high energy diet over a 2 to 3-week period. Additional feedstuffs can be used, such as crop residues and additional pasture space.
- Length of Feeding. Type of diet has a significant impact on fat color of beef cattle. A high forage diet leads to yellow fat, which is not as desirable as white fat. Some research suggests that feeding a high concentrate diet for a little as 56 days can change yellow fat to white. Feeding thin cows to a moderate condition, will take time, and determining average daily gain will aid in determining how long it will take a body condition score 3 cow to move up to a body condition score 5.
- Second Pregnancy Check. When retaining cull cows after weaning, it may be beneficial to conduct a second pregnancy check. It is not uncommon for “open” cull cows to be carrying a calf, which can be retained to calve with the herd or sold immediately as a bred cow.
- Implants. Cull cows being fed to improve body condition and weight after weaning may benefit from an implant. The cost of implants should be considered when determining if they will be used and how they will impact weight gain and feed efficiency, and the potential to reducing days on feed.
These are several tips to consider when feeding cull cows, but the most important is economic viability. Deciding to sell or feed cull cows is a decision each producer must determine and how will that decision impact potential profits.