Tips When Considering Cull Cows

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.

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
    1.  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.
    2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Cow Sense Chronicle: Early Weaning As a Drought Management Strategy

From Cow Sense Chronicles by Rachel Endecott, Beef Cattle Specialist

I’ve been hearing from folks experiencing drought and fires throughout the state. Other regions are in good shape, but some are ready for winter to come to the rescue! This month, I’ll give a brief overview of early weaning as one drought management tool for ranchers.

The majority of spring‐born beef calves are weaned at 6 to 7 months of age, typically in October or November. This timeframe will vary based on calving season, location, and marketing scheme. As dry conditions result in limited forage availability, producers may consider early weaning to ease some of the demand. By the time a calf is 6 to 7 months old, he or she consumes about half of the amount of forage that a mature cow consumes.

Weaning calves removes the lactation demand for nutrients. Cow requirements and intake will both decrease after weaning. A rule of thumb I use in my beef cattle management class is that for every day calves are weaned earlier than normal, 0.6 grazing days worth of forage are saved. This incorporates both the decrease in calf consumption of forage and the lower intake of a non‐lactating cow. This thumb rule was developed with a 1300‐lb cow weaning a 600‐lb calf at 7 months of age. If for‐ age is of adequate quantity and quality, we expect cow body condition to improve post‐weaning, which can pay dividends for the next breeding season. Weaning earlier gives the cow more time during mid‐gestation when her requirements are the lowest to put on weight going into winter and next year’s calving season.

Early weaning does come with some challenges. What are you going to do with the early weaned calves? In a drought situation, you might not have forage available to wean them on pasture. Do you have harvested feedstuffs you can feed to them? Can you send them to your buyer early? Will they stay in pens built for larger calves? Are you prepared to deal with calf health issues that may arise? Do you have the resources to have them backgrounded on‐ranch or elsewhere?

There are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to early weaning. “Traditional” early weaning might be August or September instead of October or November for many spring calving herds, like what I’ve described on the previous page. Research has shown improvements in cow condition that could make a positive difference in reproductive performance next year. If, however, we are in a bad enough drought situation that we feel we need to make a positive difference in reproductive performance THIS year, calves need to be weaned before the breeding season. Cows will increase body condition and breed up well in this system. The disadvantage is that you now have a bunch of 80‐day‐old calves to manage, and that’s not for the faint‐hearted.

Don’t forget the upcoming Veterinary Feed Directive short courses around the state. We’d love to see you and visit about the implications the new rule has for livestock producers, so RSVP to the appropriate local county Extension office listed below. All meetings start at 1 pm.

VFD Short Course Schedule Summer 2016

August 3 Miles City – Fort Keogh – 406-874-3370

August 4 Billings – County Courthouse – 406-256-2828

August 9 Glasgow Cottonwood Inn – 406-228-6241

August 10 Havre – MSU NARC – 406-231-5150

August 11 Lewistown – Eagles – 406-535-3919

August 16 Sidney – Extension Office – 406-433-1206

August 24 Butte – Public Library – 406-723-0217

August 25 Missoula – Extension Office – 406-258-4200

September 12 Great Falls TBD 406-454-6980

September 21 Dillon UM-Western 406-683-3785