Culling a herd is a common, practical and cost-effective procedure for any livestock operation. Producers are always searching for practices that can increase profitability for their farms, and culling is one such practice. Culling in its most simple form is removing those animals from the herd that are inferior, leaving only the superior animals to reproduce and strengthen the operation.
There are many factors to consider when culling a herd. These cover all livestock operations, not just cattle. According to Gary Naylor, a livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension in Dallas County, the age of the animal, teeth health, reproductive ability, and an ability to raise a calf (kid, lamb, etc) are very important. Each animal reaches a peak production age and after that point they should be culled if they aren’t able to reproduce, milk well or produce healthy, heavy offspring. For cattle, this age is usually around eight to twelve years, but can better be determined by their teeth. If an animal has broken down teeth they won’t be able to eat hay or pasture as well, which can decrease profitability.
Naylor added that bad feet or leg problems that impair the animal from getting around should be considered. “When cows are in the chute, check their udders to see that all quarters are functioning. Large teats that keep a calf from nursing at birth are a reason to cull,” he said. Another reason for culling is if physical traits such as structure and weight aren’t up to the standards of the rest of the herd. Sometimes a drought or other environmental factor may be a reason to cull, if a producers land can’t accommodate the needs of the animals with pasture or hay.
Ultimately, profitability is the determining factor for culling. The bottom line is what each producer should look at when deciding on the culling needs of his herd. It’s essential to keep good records throughout the year, measuring birth and weaning weights, checking the health of each breeding animal, and keeping up with the market trends. Then when it comes time to cull—which will usually be after calves are weaned, or about 30 to 60 days after breeding to see which animals were bred—with good records it will be much easier to pull those animals that have been less profitable to load up and take to the market. Some other production records that should be considered are calf birth date, sex of the offspring, breed, weaning date and all identification for the maternal, paternal and progeny animals.
According to Naylor, “Traditionally the spring and summer are the best price for cull cows. Most people sell culls in the fall at weaning time and before winter starts, which is usually the lowest prices.” Again, watching the market trends can increase profitability for culling animals on any operation. Recording them from year to year can be advantageous when it comes time to sell. It’s common practice to keep about 10 to 20 percent of your heifers are replacements, and thus culling about 10 to 20 percent of your existing herd in order to introduce new genetics, and keep the production lines vigorous. Naylor concluded, “Overall, it’s very important to keep good records. You can’t make good culling decisions without the records to back them up.”


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