Cull Cows

Make progress by culling low-end cows.

Continuous genetic improvement should be a priority in cow/calf operations. To allow the most advanced genetics to enter the herd, room must be made for replacement females, which will lead to the need to cull cows. Culling is a part of every operation and generally occurs every year.

In less favorable drought situation, culling cows can keep your operation afloat. Open cows and cull candidates are eating feed and limiting profit margins. The sooner cull candidates can be identified the sooner valuable feed can be saved.


Identifying culls

The following criteria should serve as a guide to determine culls

  • Open/Not pregnant
  • Problem cows: 
    • Lameness
    • Cancer eye/blindness
    • Udder/teat problem
    • Docility/Disposition
  • Age (Reproductive efficiency tends to decline after 10 years)
  • Poor performance

Getting the most out of culls

As with all markets, there is fluctuation in the price of culls. In general, market lows occur during times of highest supply. Since most Illinois producers cull cows in the fall after weaning, the prices in fall are typically lower than other times of the year. Price is also affected by body condition of the cow. The following are USDA cull scores

  • Breakers: Highest conditioned cows (BCS 7 or greater)
  • Boners: Moderate condition (BCS 5, 6, and 7)
  • Leans: Light condition (BCS 1-4)
  • Lights: Light condition, light weight, or low dressing

Breakers and Boners are higher priced than Leans and Lights. This raises the question: Should I feed my lightweight culls to a better body condition score before selling? This really depends on a few things:

  • Cow Health: Are the culls healthy enough to gain weight and remain on the farm for a period of time?
  • Profit Margin: The price per pound needs to be higher when you sell. Understanding and watching markets will be beneficial.
  • Cost of gain: How expensive is the feed? If low-cost feeds are not available, the return on investment will be negative.
  • Financial stability: Do you have the money upfront to pay to keep culls around? Keeping culls should not put you in a negative balance. During drought situations, it probably isn’t financially feasibility to keep culls. 

Although culling is not something most producers look forward to, it accounts for 15 to 20% of a cow-calf producer’s income. Being observant with your herd and developing a cull cow plan is the best way to return the most profit to your operation.

About the author