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.