With feed costs a dominant factor in cow-calf profitability, weaning and fall processing is a good time to evaluate cows and make culling and management decisions, says Kansas State University cow-calf specialist Bob Weaber, PhD. Culling, of course, plays a key role in reducing cow herd costs, and just how deeply a producer should cull depends largely on forage availability. Weaber suggests a strategic approach to culling decisions. A strategic culling plan should conserve as many good cows entering their prime producing years as possible, setting up future marketing opportunities of calf crops, especially as the market outlook suggests strong calf prices in coming years.
At processing, spend some extra time to evaluate cows for pregnancy status, udder quality, and adequacy of teeth and feet structure. If you are in a drought situation, market open cows right away to reduce nutrient demand. But if you have adequate forage, consider feeding thin cows to add weight and value before marketing.
If you need to cull beyond the “problem cows,” move next to older cows that are at or near the end of their productive lives. Next, consider selling open and bred replacement heifers. Culling these females, although they represent the newest genetics in your herd, will reduce overall herd nutrient demands, as they require additional energy for growth. Due to short supplies of breeding females in the marketplace, heifers in good body condition should generate significant sale proceeds.
Weaber also recommends recording cow body-condition scores during fall processing. If you find large numbers of thin cows, begin making plans for supplemental nutrition. If only a few cows are thin, consider separating the herd into two groups, allowing you to supplement thin cows to regain condition while avoiding the expense of overfeeding cows in good condition.
Weaber notes that large, high-maintenance cows are becoming a concern for many producers. If your cows are bigger than you would like to fit your environment, he suggests considering selecting replacement heifers from the middle part of the weight distribution. Keeping the biggest, fleshiest heifers from your herd over time contributes to increases in mature cow weights and increased nutrient demand.