Record Keeping and Culling Strategies

By Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

It’s that time of year again, the leaves are beginning to change, the weather is cooler, and weaning is happening across Montana.  Not only is this a stressful time of year for the calves, but also for producers.  Critical decisions are being made in herds to prepare for the future and the hardest part is making that cull list.  However, a cull list shouldn’t be made without first discussing and analyzing records.

Maintaining accurate and up-to-date records is essential to making decisions for your herd.  These records become even more important during the weaning season as calves and cows are marketed.  Examples of records sheets can be found on the MSU Beef Cattle Extension Website at http://animalrangeextension.montana.edu/beef/records.html.  The records available pertain to beef cattle production, grazing, hay, treatment, supplementation, etc.  They are made to fit in a three-ring binder.  Keeping written and/or electronic records can ease the decision-making process.  Maintaining your records in a single location allows for easy access and comparison of your historical records.

No matter how detailed your records are, culling livestock is still a difficult decision.  A few things need to be considered prior to making culling decisions.

1. What are your short-, medium-, and long-term herd production goals?

2. Did your herd meet your production goals for the year (short-term)?

3. Are you progressing towards your medium- and long-term goals?

Writing your goals in your record keeping notebook is an excellent way to assess your herd at the end of each year.  With each year you write your goals, you can compare your goals across years to determine how you are progressing towards your medium- and long-term goals.  Keeping and maintaining accurate records of your herd will aid you in critically assessing your herd each year to determine if your goals were met.

Determining if your goals were met will aid you in determining which animals to cull and which animals to keep.  Some cull decisions are more easily made than others, such as animals with bad feet and legs, a bad udder, are open, have a bad disposition, old, bad teeth, and health issues.  Record this information as it is observed in the herd to easily sort those animals when needed.

If additional culling is needed, the decisions become more difficult.  These additional culling decisions can be made by assessing your herd goals.  A couple of examples to additional culling include genetics or efficiency.  If culling based on genetics, additional information should be assessed.  Your young cows and heifers should be some of the best genetics in your herd, but they require additional inputs for growth and maintenance.  Your older cows have established herd genetics and require little inputs.  If utilizing efficiency to make your additional culling decisions, first efficiency needs to be defined.  Efficiency can be defined in multiple ways, for example feed efficiency (pounds of feed per pound of gain) or pounds of calf weaned per pound of cow.  These are just a few ways of determining additional culling decisions and will need to be assessed based on your herd goals.

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