Friday, July 12, 2024
HomeLivestockBeef CattleGuidelines for Culling Cows - and Other Livestock

Guidelines for Culling Cows – and Other Livestock

This article comes to us from Dan Childs, Senior Agricultural Economics Consultant at the Noble Research Institute. You can learn more about Dan and the work he does at the end of this article.

For most cattle producers, culling cows is not an easy task. However, some culling needs to be done each year to maintain optimal productivity. Records on each cow’s yearly production would be beneficial when making culling decisions, but collecting some information when the cows are processed can give you a good place to start.

Cattlemen should make it a point to evaluate all breeding females at least once a year. Weaning is likely the most convenient time to do this evaluation. In addition to their vaccinations, cows should also be pregnancy-tested, evaluated for structural soundness and aged based on the condition of their teeth. This information will take a little extra time to collect, but will be valuable when determining a culling order. In addition, this culling order will be useful during a drought as it is usually more profitable to cull unproductive cows as a drought is beginning than to try to hold on until the drought is over.

Usually, the best cows to cull are the ones that have the least chance of being productive in the long term or are the farthest away from being productive. Use the following list as a guideline for establishing your culling order.

Cull in This Order Until You Reach Your Desired Herd Size


Some producers can tolerate more disposition problems than others. Disposition should be evaluated both in the pasture and in the pen because some cattle will react differently once corralled. Make a note of those animals that make it difficult to gather the herd or rotate pastures. Any animal that is aggressive should make the list.

Open Females

All open females should be culled. According to the Kansas Farm Management Association enterprise summary report of some 90 beef cow herds in 2016, the annual variable costs to keep a cow was near $700. It will be very difficult for an open cow to make up for a year of lost production. In addition, if a heifer does not settle in the same period as her contemporaries, she is telling you that she does not fit your management environment.

Structural Soundness

Evaluate the structural soundness of each cow based on her ability to raise a calf. Anything that limits her ability should be noted. Look for bad feet or toes, a history of prolapse, eye problems and poor udder conformation, including bad quarters and big teats.

Don’t know your cows’ ages? Click here for help figuring that out.

(Adjust all age recommendations if you’re raising sheep or goats)

Typically, a cow is most productive between the ages of 4 and 9. The condition of a cow’s teeth is indicative of her age. A cow with broken or missing teeth should probably be culled. Those with badly worn or separated teeth would be next on the list.

At this point, it becomes increasingly difficult to make culling decisions because you will have to cull productive animals.

Bred Cows Older Than 9 Years of Age

These cows will likely be culled in the near future and are close to the end of their most productive years. Within this group, cull the thin cows first.

Replacement Heifers

First, cull yearling heifers that have not been exposed to a bull. These animals have very good value as feeder heifers. Bred heifers would be next in the culling order.


Use this as an opportunity to make your herd more uniform. Any cow that does not fit due to breed, size or low productivity should be culled next.

Bred Cows 3 to 9 Years of Age

These are your most productive cows. If you must cull out of this group, 3-year-olds and those cows that are 8 to 9 years old would go first.

The decision about which animals to cull can be difficult. Each operation will have different goals and, therefore, may need to adjust accordingly. Use this list as a guideline for developing a culling order for your herd.

We’d love to hear your recommendations and how you handle culling. Share your ideas in the comments section below!


Dan Childs is a senior agricultural consultant in the Noble Research Institute’s producer relations program, where he serves as an economist. His areas of interest include farm taxation and estate planning, financial budgeting, planning and analysis, and livestock marketing. Childs enjoys working with farm families and helping them achieve their goals. He joined the Noble Research Institute staff in 1978. Before coming to the Noble Research Institute, Childs spent three years with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and a short time with the United States Department of Agriculture. Childs is a veteran of the U.S. Army. He grew up in Pontotoc County near Roff, Oklahoma.

Your Tips Keep This Library Online

This resource only survives with your assistance.

Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. Very well written article! We keep very detailed records of every cow, and that makes it easier to cull. Another idea I would add is we make notes in our calving booklet. Those notes include their disposition and if they’ve had any trouble with calving, mastitis, and mothering ability. Keeping those notes is a big help when you’re making the cull list in the fall.

  2. This is a very worthwhile topic. I think Dan is correct: culling can be a difficult decision-making process, but it doesn’t have to be. If we simply adopt a system like the one Dan suggests, the decisions get made for us, without much interference from emotion.

    One point I would make is to question the value of keeping annual production records on each cow. In most herds, production is measured by weaning weight, and the vast majority of the calves fall into the big lump of a bell curve. There will typically be very very few calves (maybe a few percent?) that don’t make the grade. They are obvious and pretty easy to spot and pair up. I suppose you could argue that a cow might have a terrible calf one year and then return to the middle of the pack next year. I doubt this happens very often. So, sort off the terrible producers at weaning (or before) and send them to the butcher pen.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the On Pasture Library

Free Ebook!

Latest Additions

Most Read