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PRODUCERS CANNOT AFFORD TO KEEP CULL COWS

by: Ted G. Dyer
UGA Animal Extension Scientist

With production cost such as feed, fuel, fertilizer, and just about any other item purchased for the farm increasing annually, beef cattle producers can not afford to keep cull cows around. Now is the time to make those critical cow herd culling decisions before you start into the winter feeding months.

There are many factors to consider when deciding on which cows to cull. Keep in mind that each cow should be evaluated on her ability to produce a calf unassisted plus nurse and raise a healthy calf to weaning. Also, the cow should have the ability to remain healthy and efficiently convert feed and forage to meat, muscle, and milk. These deci- sions can not be made without sound recordkeeping and reg- ular cow herd observation and evaluation. With cull cows representing approximately 20 percent of the gross income of a commercial cow operation, timely culling decisions will make a significant economic impact on your operation. Below are some factors to consider when culling:

Physical Problems

Structural Soundness -- Keep in mind cows must be mobile and have the ability to forage over pastures and travel to water plus withstand breeding conditions. Check cows' feet, legs, joints and rump structure (slope from hooks to pins) to make sure each is structurally sound and functional.

Udder -- Look for problems that would affect the cow's ability to supply the calf with adequate milk. Cows with broken down udders, large balloon shaped teats and non-functional or dry quarters should be culled. Cows should exhibit a level firmly attached udder with four properly formed and functional teats.

Mouth -- A cow's teeth will normally wear over time. However, it is important for cows to exhibit sound strong teeth. Cows with teeth worn down to the gums, broken teeth or missing teeth should be considered a candidate for culling. Cows should be mouthed annually to determine condition of their teeth.

Bad Eyes -- Eye sight is very important to cows just like humans to remain functional in the herd. Check cows' eyes for potentially dangerous eye tumors on the eyeball and around the eye. If ignored these tumors will continue to develop and become cancerous over time.

Reproductive Problems

Non-pregnant (Open) --Identify these cows by rectal palpation (60-90 days post breeding season) and cull. Pregnancy checking will also help identify herd health and fertility prob- lems.

Prolapse -- This can occur before (vaginal) or after (uterine) calving. A vaginal prolapse will likely recur and is known to have a genetic component, meaning it can be passed on to offspring. A uterine prolapse occurs at or shortly after calving and can be life-threatening. Affected cows may not rebreed in a timely manner.

Age of Cow -- Research has shown that cows start a slow decline in rebreeding performance between 8 to 10 years old. Then a steeper decline starts at age 12. Watch for slow breeders or late calving cows -- they are good candidates for culling.

Performance Problems

Combination of one or more factors -- These could include health issues, poor fleshing ability, inferior genetics, poor mothering ability, age of the cow, and lack of desirable traits (ranging from calving ease to carcass quality). Each of these should be evaluated closely when making final culling decisions.

Other Problems

Disposition -- Cull any wild or ornery cows. These cows will be hard on you and your facilities, plus they will raise wild calves. Research has shown that wild cattle do not perform as well as calm cattle. Don't take the risk; they are dangerous and they will cost you money.

Remember: when it comes to culling your cow herd you should evaluate all animals together (including your favorites) and make sound culling decisions.

Keep the cows that will return you the most and sell the rest.

The three O theory -- cull all old, open, and ornery cows is a fairly good approach; however, don't forget some of the other problems you might experience with your cow herd.

Lastly, try to sell those cull cows when they will return you the most income. During certain times of the year it may be to your advantage to retain cull cows until weight and body condition can be added.

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