Keep Productive Cows in the Herd


Cattle producers are faced with a feed shortage heading into winter. Fall pastures are short and hay supply is limited.  Producers are looking for ways to survive and remain in the cattle business. One survival method is to reduce the demand for the limited feed supply.

Culling cows from the herd is method to alleviate the stress on the pasture and the demand for the limited, high-priced hay. Culling also provides an opportunity for a producer to improve the efficiency of their cow herd, however producers need to make careful decisions to preserve the genetic progress of their herd.

The first cut will be to eliminate the open cows. Pregnancy check cows early and expect to have a greater percentage open than previous years due to the extreme heat. Some early pregnancy reports are 10-40%.  An open cow is a pasture ornament than will not provide any returns for at least 18 months, by the time she becomes bred and weans a calf.

Late calving cows are another criteria to examine when deciding on which cows stay in the herd. Later calving cows tend to have lighter calves at weaning and a greater chance of being open the subsequent breeding season.

The final cut to your cow herd roster should be based on age, disposition and individual performance. If a cow is old does not necessarily mean to cull her. If the cow is still raising marketable calves and has good teeth and is in good condition; consider keeping her.  Cows that have poor dispositions and are hard to handle, this is the time to get rid of them. Cows that have bad feet, udders or eyes should be candidates for culling.

Cull cows that are most likely to produce poor quality calves with light or below average weaning weights. The only way to determine if your cows are producing quality calves is to have records and performance data. If a cow consistently ranks in the bottom third or fourth of the herd, she may be a candidate for culling.

During these tough times that producers are experiencing, conserve valuable feed resources by not investing them in non-pregnant or non-productive cows. Identify these cows early and remove them to conserve your limited feed resources.

Look at this as an opportunity to keep the productive cows that will vastly improve the productivity of your cowherd in the future. Matching your cowherd and genetics to your management and environment will help maximize your efficiency, longevity and productivity.   

Source: David Hoffman, MU Extension Livestock Specialist