A cow that remains open for a season is an obvious candidate for culling, but there are many other aspects of the animal’s condition that should be taken into account when deciding when it needs to go to town.
One of the first things you should look at is the overall structure, Dr. Tom Troxel, University of Arkansas Extension beef cattle specialist, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor.
“For example, look at the feet and legs to make sure that they’re sound, to make sure that they’re not lame and not showing any adverse problems with the foot, hoof and toes, and that they’re walking properly and not showing any signs of abnormal gait,” he said.
The need for soundness also extends to their eyes; watch for signs of a disease that can cause blindness like pinkeye, which could be common this year due to the tremendous amount of flies, or white spots around or in the eyes that could grow into a bigger problem later. Also, when making a culling decision on an older cow that’s still in good body condition and productive, always examine the teeth. When teeth start to fall out, the cow may no longer be able to graze well, and may lose body condition as a result.
Cows that are not carrying a calf should be culled before wintertime, when feeding becomes very expensive and an open cow would create an even bigger loss. The producer should also monitor records, and cull cows that aren’t producing good, growthy calves; this is also a way to make sure one of those cow’s daughters isn’t retained in the breeding herd.
Troxel recommended calves be weighed at weaning to be sure they’ve attained approximately 50 percent of body weight. By adjusting performance to a 205 day weaning weight, he said, “You’re taking the age factor out of the weaning weight consideration, and you’re also taking out the milk production factor. We all know that a 2-year-old female does not produce as much milk as an 8-year-old cow, so they’re adjusting the weight of the calf to compensate for that.”
Research at the University of Arkansas has demonstrated cows that produce calves at the low end of the scale one year are also likely to produce poor-performing calves in subsequent years.
It’s not only cows that should be considered for culling.
Eldon Cole, University of Missouri regional livestock specialist, said the bull also needs to be taken into consideration if he’s been injured, and did not do his job of getting the cows bred in the just-concluded season.
“A lot of times, we don’t have the luxury to cull a bull because he consistently weans subpar animals,” Cole told OFN. “Some people may get around to it, but most of them think, bulls are so expensive, I’ll just keep this one for another year. That’s probably a mistake. I’m a firm believer in doing the breeding soundness exam on bulls and, if you have the luxury of knowing how his calves have been doing at weaning time and as a yearling, and you see one that is falling way behind the rest of the herd, that’s when you need to pull the trigger, load him up in the trailer and take him to the sale.”
He said prices for cull cows and bulls usually perk up toward February, even if they’re going to the packer.
Disease is also an issue; bulls that have tested positive for trichomoniasis cannot be cured and need to go to slaughter. Cole said there is also more attention being paid to persistently infected BVD cattle, which contract the virus in utero, perform poorly throughout their lives and shed so much virus they endanger their cohorts; Cole recommended culling both cows and bulls that are BVD-PI.
Is there an age at which cows need to be culled, no questions asked? “Cows reach their peak milk about 10 years of age, and then after about 11-12 years of age their milk production starts to drop off,” said Dr. Troxel. “I have seen cows still very productive at 13-14 years of age, and you always wish that you could cull the cow one year before they don’t reproduce or one year before they fail to produce a quality calf, so you almost have to have a magic crystal ball.”


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