Consider culling order for fall-calving herds

Apr 18, 2014
by WLJ

With low cattle numbers in some areas of the U.S., producers would like to expand their beef herds. However, in much of the western part of the Southern Plains, Mother Nature has not cooperated. Many producers are currently being faced with limited forage availability due to drought and (in a few cases) wildfires. One of the first management tools that should be evaluated for cow/calf producers is to cull poorer producing cows and capture their value at a time when the prices for cows and culled replacement heifers are strong and allow for some capital investment to be used when cattle prices may be lower and forage supplies are more plentiful.

Below is a suggested order of culling for fall-calving herds in the face of diminishing forage supplies:

1. Open (non-pregnant) old cows;

2. Open replacement heifers;

3. Old cows with unsound mouth, eyes, or feet and legs;

4. Open cows of any age;

5. Thin cows over seven years of age (BCS < 4); and,

6. Very late bred young cows.

The first two items on the list are automatic culls in any forage year. Old, open cows are not worth keeping through a low-forage, expensive feeding period. Replacement heifers that were properly developed and mated to a fertile bull or in a well-organized AI program should be pregnant. If they are not bred, there is a likelihood that they are reproductively unsound and should be removed from the herd while still young enough to go to the feedlot and grade choice with an A maturity carcass.

The more difficult decisions come when the producer is short enough in forage and feed supplies that he/she feels the need to cull cows that have been palpated and found pregnant.

That order of culling starts with line 5 on the culling order. This is necessary only when grass and feed supplies are very short. The thin older cows are going to require additional feed resources to have a high probability of being productive the following year and the late bred 2-year-olds are least likely to have long-term productivity in your herd.

We pray that spring rains return and allow for forage growth this summer. If that does occur, the reduced stocking rates on native pastures would be helpful in allowing the range condition a chance to recuperate from several years of drought and heavy grazing. — Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Specialist