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The Cattle Connection

Getting the most out of cull cows

farmer looking at cull cows

As with all markets, there is fluctuation in the price of cull cows. 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, lightweight, 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:

  1. Cow Health - Are the culls healthy enough to gain weight and remain on the farm for a period of time?
  2. Profit Margin - Understanding and watching market trends will be beneficial. Knowing cost to house, feed, and maintain cows is necessary to evaluate potential profits
  3. Cost of gain - How expensive is the feed? If low-cost feeds are not available, the return on investment and profit margins will likely not be sufficient to justify feeding cull cows.
  4. 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 may not be financially feasibility to keep culls.

Another opportunity may be selling cull cows as bred cows. Obviously, these cows would need to be fit and free of defects, but possibly cows that do not fit your calving season. Just because a cow does not fit your calving window doesn't mean she won't fit into another herd's calving season. So, selling late-bred cows could still offer a premium versus selling them as a slaughter cow.

Although culling is not something most producers look forward to, it accounts for 15%-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.