The weather has cooled and most of us have had some precipitation.
For producers weaning or planning the weaning of spring calves, now is the time to plan the marketing of the second most important source of capital in a beef herd, the cull cow.
With short winter feed, many producers will have extra cows to market this fall, but all producers have some cows that need to go to market. These cull cows account for 20 percent of the income in most cow/calf operations. It is very important to market them properly.
The first thing a producer must do is inventory winter feed, calving feed and early pasture supplies. Calculate the number of cows that can be fed with a minimum of purchased feed. If a lot of winter feed is available, producers will probably cull only the worst 10 percent of the herd they normally would sell. Those with limited winter feed will probably cull more deeply into the productive cows to minimize purchased feed costs.
Two marketing strategies are used to reduce cow numbers. The first is the removal of cows as a result of production records. Any cow which is a poor-performer is sold. This means cows that are nonconforming or non-adaptable are removed. Cows with lameness and other physical problems are sold. An early pregnancy check will highlight open and late-bred cows. Their sale moves the herd into a tighter calving season, increasing herd consistency. The basic concept of production culling is the removal of those animals which don’t meet production parameters, are old or have physical problems.
The second form of culling is financial management. This uses financial records to assist in cow selection. Economically a producer may decide to market their highest-valued females with the highest production costs. This would mean marketing bred heifers while retaining cows with satisfactory potential production and minimal depreciation costs. This usually means keeping productive cows of more than 5 years of age. Most herds cull for production, but financial management may be needed in drought situations.
Marketing is very important because the cow market generally has a very predictable seasonal cycle. October and November are when most cull cows are marketed. This typically causes the lowest cull cow market. Producers who have early weaned and pregnancy checked cows may want to sell in September if they are short of feed. Early spring is typically another price peak in the cull cow market. If winter feed and fall grazing is available, producers may choose to hold cows until spring. This will add weight and improve the grade. The improvement in these cows should be accomplished after 80-120 on feed.
Cull cow diets require high energy similar to finishing cattle diets. This is about 60 Mcal net energy for growth with 10 percent to 12 percent protein. Fall and winter grazing of cornstalks with the addition of ethanol byproducts may be used to accomplish 1.5 pounds and better gains per day on these cows.
Remember to bring the cows to the high grain (energy) diet slowly to assure proper rumen adaptation to the feedstuffs. Ionophores are good to add to rations to improve feed efficiency. Try to avoid the use of antibiotics to minimize problems with withdrawal periods. Growth implants can also be used to boost feedlot performance and carcass weight. Although no implants are labeled for cull cows, androgenic implants with trenbolone acetate (TBA) produce better response than estrogenic implants.
Cull cows have always been a source of income to the cow/calf producer. This year the drought has forced many producers to cull more deeply than usual. Establish a culling plan that incorporates both the performance and economic indicators of a herd, while adding value to the animals with good management, low-cost nutrition and strategic marketing. This will maximize the financial returns to the operation.