Culling cows is an important process of being a livestock producer. There are several traits to consider when deciding whether to cull a cow. The most common reasons cows are culled from a herd range from pregnancy status and age to structural soundness and disposition. But when is the right strategic time to sell culled cows?

Cull cows make up roughly 15 to 30 percent of a livestock producers cow-calf revenue, so it’s important to consider profitability of this sector of a herd. Adding value to cull cows isn’t always easy, especially heading into the winter months when market values are typically at their low for cull cows.

Values tend to peak in the spring months of March, April and May. Is it more profitable to feed cows through the winter months and play the seasonal market?

According to information from the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, feeding in late fall through February will allow producers to take advantage of the seasonal price increase in the spring months. Feeding cows for a period of time can also add value by increasing final weights, but most importantly, improving dressing percentage and quality grade. A 6 to 20 percent increase in price can be expected when improving grades from a Canner to Utility grade.

Ideally, holding cows for higher markets is the best option, but the reality is that cow prices are usually low and feed prices are usually getting higher during these months. So is it justified to feed them or is better to cull now and alleviate the expense?

It depends on livestock condition and a livestock producer’s means. It’s important to work within your means and understand what is feasible for the type of operation that you run.

Some livestock producers on a rotational grazing set-up may have enough forages stockpiled that additional feeding costs would be relatively low. If that’s the case, then it might be worth it to make it through the winter and sell when the market is high.

On the other hand, some producers may not be on a rotational grazing system and they may supplement with a lot of grain and hay. If that’s the case, one has to consider the additional expense of feeding each head they would typically cull compared to the expected market value in the Spring. Even though prices are usually up it may not be worth it.

Cows are usually culled in the fall after weaning. Normally, cows are thin at this point due to lactation and could either require a lot of nutrition to regain a good body condition score or they may not ever fully recover.

Cull cows are not usually very efficient and conversation of feed ration and average daily gain need to be top priorities.

Spend some time and consider your heard. Do a budget and figure out what money you are going to have to spend to keep your herd complete through the winter or to cull in the fall. If you crunch and the numbers make sense to keep them, then proceed that route. If they don’t, go ahead and cull.

The appropriate culling time will really depend on the sustainable resources available to the livestock producer.


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