Low feed resources during winter are the primary driver of culling, but the widespread drought that is slowly expanding into the deep South is also driving historic beef cow liquidation. As we approach prime culling season (September through December) and continue to cull to manage through drought conditions, it is important to be strategic, and to keep the economics of culling in mind rather than heading to the sale with whatever was easy to load that day.
Remember that profit per head is simply;
Profit per head = Total Revenue per head minus Total Cost per head
Any traits or performance issues that make a cow cost more or generate less revenue should be factored into keeping or culling her. Knowing the details of a cow’s performance when culling is a prime example of the need for good, cow level records. It’s also important to remember that culling can serve as an opportunity; if done strategically, culling can reshape the genetic profile of your herd and increase its profitability over time.
What are the factors influencing a cow’s revenue generation? The number one factor is her ability to wean a live calf. If she has ever failed to wean a live calf, she is already behind in terms of paying for herself and statistically is more likely than the remainder of the herd to fail to wean a live calf again. These cows should be near, if not at the top of the list for culling. Beyond raising a live calf to weaning weight, matching the appropriate calving season, stage in productive life, and progeny traits like low weaning weight can all influence revenue and should be considered when culling.
Cull cows can also generate revenue through their own sale. Cull cow values are at historic highs. Combined with the expectation of high feed costs through the upcoming winter, some marginal cows may even be worth consideration for ‘another career,’ as my animal science colleague likes to say.
Finally, don’t forget to factor in individual cow’s costs. Cows that need assistance during calving, cows that have structural or confirmation issues that might impact their ability to breed, and cows with temperament problems should all warrant consideration come time to go to town.