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 Disposition Some producers can tolerate more di

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3 thoughts on “Guidelines for Culling Cows – and Other Livestock

  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.

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