Cost of an old cow

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Last fall during the large calf and cow sale runs, one of the sale barn crew members stated that “It would be easier to find an albino skunk in Haakon County than a broken mouth cow.” That statement hit me as good management coming off of a drought year and the potential for another drought coming.

Every article about culling cows includes a bullet point that says “old cows,” but rarely are there reasons to get rid of the “trail boss cow," the last cow you bought from dad, or the favorite 4-H heifer listed. There is a favorite cow in every herd that gets kept every year, even if she calves a little later each spring and the calf weans a little lighter in the fall.

Reasons to cull these animals could include the death potential of older cows and the increased feed costs required to keep them at a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 4 to 6. Winter feeding recommendations frequently list sorting the herd into different management groups, and they typically recommend putting older cows in with bred heifers so they are fed at a higher nutritional plane.

Another, and maybe more important, factor to consider is the loss in production, i.e. weaning and selling weight of the calf, when compared to cows in their peak performance range of 5-10 years of age.

The Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) publishes adjustment factors for calf weaning weights based on the cow’s age in their Guidelines for Uniform Beef Improvement Programs publication. For cows 11 years-old or more, the adjustments are +20 pounds for a male and +18 pounds for a female calf. That alone indicates an 18-20 pound reduction in their prodigy compared to their contemporaries in the herd. The difference between a 580-pound steer and a 600-pound steer doesn’t sound like a lot, until you consider that the forecasted price for feeder calves the fall of 2013 are $150-$160/cwt. That figures out to be $30-$32 per-head difference in price received.

Thirty dollars may not seem like much for some producers but consider that you could have been feeding a younger cow with more future potential, at lower feed costs and kept your weaning weight an average 20 pounds higher, thus selling those old cows makes good management sense.

The best management decisions are based on your own performance data. Whether you utilize CHAPS, CattleMax, Excel files, or a notebook with individual cow and calf performance listed doesn’t matter. What matters is using the data for the improvement of your herd and continued profitability.

Culling management will be a very important tool as spring nears and the drought continues to linger. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is a common adage. However if you don’t utilize the measurements in your decision making, you haven’t managed either.

Source: Heather Gessner



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W. Mark Hilton    
Purdue, IN  |  February, 20, 2013 at 06:43 PM

Yes, records are the key to knowing who to cull. Prime of life for the average beef cow is age 5-10, but some cows need to be culled at 3 years of age due to poor production while some 12 year-olds need to stay; again based on records.


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