When to keep them and when to cull them

Determining whether to retain an open female or send her to town requires producers to analyze a multitude of factors. Before hauling a heifer or cow to the sale barn, producers should evaluate the individual animal, current environmental conditions and management practices. All these elements can impact an animal’s reproductive success. 

Cull or a Second Chance: When it comes to heifers, research shows a clear advantage for a heifer that gets bred early in her first breeding season. These females demonstrate better lifetime performance in the areas of reproduction and calf performance. 

“If they don’t get bred in a 90-day breeding season, then I would say that it’s time for the female to get a new address,” Andrew McCorkill, field specialist in livestock with the University of Missouri Extension, said. 

McCorkill encourages producers to view their cows as employees. He uses this analogy for several reasons. First, McCorkill reminds producers they must take care of their animals before they can expect their heifers or cows to be successful. The second reason revolves around a producers’ performance evaluations and expectations for their herd. 

“A cow’s job, so to speak, is to have an acceptable calf at weaning that is born every 365 days, give or take,” McCorkill explained. “If an individual isn’t doing that, she needs to find a new job; if many of the herd fail in this expectation, it’s time to look a little deeper at the management.”

Environmental Factors: Not all rules for culling are cut and dry. There are times when there are circumstances outside of a female’s adaptability or reproductive ability that may cause lower conception rates. For example, years like this one when the heat came on fast and furious this spring. The harsh and dramatic shift in weather impacted fertility for bulls, heifers and cows. In these circumstances, though rare, a producer may want to consider rolling over a female to the next calving season. 

Alternative Management Practices: In the current environment with drought and high input costs, producers may consider alternative management practices for open females. 

When it comes to spring calving heifers that should be wrapping up their first breeding season, McCorkill recommends an early preg check. This should be conducted by the 90-to-100-day mark after the first breeding opportunity. 

“Those open heifers that are caught early can be sold as feeders or kept and fed on the farm and sold for slaughter relatively inexpensively, and often will make as much or more as if they were sold as a second or third period bred heifer,” McCorkill explained. 

McCorkill reminds producers to evaluate cows on a case-by-case basis, but not to be too forgiving. 

“Cull cows are still worth a fair amount of money and her sale will likely cover the costs associated with developing a bred heifer to replace her,” McCorkill added. 

Management Strategies in Drought Conditions: This year’s drought in much of the Ozarks may spark some producers to shift some of their management strategies. 

“More operations than not are overstocked across the Ozarks,” McCorkill stated. “A little weather blip from time to time helps to keep us in check with numbers.”

 Livestock specialists advise producers to run stocking rates based off the drought years. This practice allows for a cushion in the dry years, while creating opportunities in the good years. The opportunities could be for things such as putting cheap gains on the calf crop, or possibly buying more calves to run for the spring flush. 

McCorkill encourages producers to take a close look at their forage base and consider some alternatives to a 100 percent fescue base. 

“Many operations have some ground that is good enough to grow some high-quality cool and warm season annuals that generally will provide some high-quality hay or grazing when nothing else is growing,” McCorkill said. He advises producers to use this or any weather anomaly to evaluate their management practices and to do some finetuning.


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