A sure sign that fall is upon us is that corn and soybean fields are maturing and the fall harvest season is underway for most farmers. Early reports from around Ohio are that yields are very good, especially for corn. It is also harvest season for the cow-calf producer as spring-born calves are being weaned now and over the next few weeks.
As calves are weaned, much attention will be given to the general welfare of the calf and rightfully so. Hopefully health programs were in place to avoid sickness in newly weaned calves and marketing plans will help capture full value for your calves. Fall is a great time to reap the rewards of all of your hard work and to evaluate the quality of your calf crop.
Weaning time is also an excellent time to evaluate your cow herd and decide which cows get to remain your "employees" and which ones need to find a new career. Notice that I referred to the cow as an employee. After all, they work for you. Yes, you have to provide them with the infrastructure to do their job including proper nutrition, health care, facilities, etc. However, if they are not being productive for you, they need to be replaced.
Cows and heifers leave operations for a variety of reasons. The U.S.D.A.'s 2007-08 National Animal Health Monitoring System's (NAHMS) Beef Study surveyed producers and determined the primary reasons for culling breeding females from the herd. Across all sizes of operations, the top reasons given for culling females from the herd were as follows: 1. Age or bad teeth; 55.7%; 2. Pregnancy status (open or aborted): 41.8%; 3. Temperament: 16.6%; 4. Other reproductive problem: 13.4%; 5. Economics (drought, herd reduction, market conditions): 10.9%; 6. Producing poor calves: 10.7%; 7. Physical unsoundness: 9.6%; 8. Udder problem: 9.2%; and 8. Bad eyes; 7.1%.
In general, as herd size increased, operations became tougher in regards to enforcing the reasons for culling. This can be interpreted as the larger herds that are probably more full-time in nature and less willing to tolerate issues that compromise efficiency within the operation. The most notable case of this was under the "Pregnancy status (open or aborted)" category. However, herds that were smaller in size were quicker to cull under the "Economics (drought, herd reduction, market conditions)" category than the larger herds. I believe that this can be interpreted that the smaller herds are generally a smaller enterprise in a larger farming operation or a supplemental enterprise for a part-time producer and in those situations; producers are less likely to tolerate large negative economic impacts.