Cull cows have the most pronounced seasonal price pattern of any class of cattle and one of the most reliable patterns as well. Cull cow prices typically bottom in late October through November and rise from December through the first half of the year. A ten-year average shows that cull cow prices in the Southern Plains tend to increase from the November low by eight percent into January; 15 percent into February; and about 18 percent into March and April.

This means that more years than not a producer can take a thin cull cow in November and add some weight and sell more pounds at a higher price by holding the cow until February or March. Additionally, a thin cow that moves up, say one body condition score may bring an additional carcass premium compared to her condition at culling. Obviously the economic feasibility of this depends on the costs and availability of feed resources and a number of management considerations. The costs of gain are significant as cows are relatively inefficient in terms of feed conversion. Additionally, retaining cull cows is not recommended for cows that are not fundamentally sound and healthy.

There are some unique considerations as well as typical market considerations for culling this fall. Cull cow prices weakened in July and have remained soft into the fall. Much of the weakness is due to softness in the processing meat sector, driven by ample competing meat supplies and the availability of competitively priced imported processing beef. Additionally, the dairy sector has funded dairy cow liquidation programs that have added price pressure in specific weeks and in specific locations. After two rounds of dairy cow buyout that resulted in spikes in cow slaughter in May/June and in September, the dairy industry (Cooperatives Working Together or CWT) has announced a third buyout for 2009. The timing of the slaughter of these cows will likely be in November, precisely on top of the seasonal peak in beef cow culling. This may add another reason for beef cow-calf producers to consider retaining and feeding their cull cows this year.

The concern for the timing of this third round of dairy cow buyout is not so much that it drastically changes the overall supply and demand picture for cull cow markets. The fact is that so far this year the increase in dairy cow slaughter has been matched by decreased beef cow slaughter and total cow slaughter for the year is up only slightly from year ago levels. The problem is more localized in that the two to three week surge in dairy cow slaughter in November may seriously impact cull cow prices in certain locations where the dairy cows are being marketed.

Source: Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist