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Cull Those Unproductive Beef Cows

Fall processing is an ideal time to cull problem cows. In early fall prices for beef cows are generally higher than later in the year and calves are being weaned then. But the big savings are on the cost side.

The yearly cost to maintain a cow on the Prairies is at least $400, whether she is productive or not.

Reproduction is the biggest loss in a cow-calf operation so a timely pregnancy diagnosis by your veterinarian will save considerably on feed costs. Your profit is derived by pounds of beef sold so open cows contribute nothing to the revenue pool.

But that is not the only benefit to a pregnancy exam. While palpating the cows, internal pelvic size can also be assessed in heifers. Internal infection in the abdomen (adhesions), tumours, and infected kidneys can also be detected in time to ship the animal.

Freemartins (heifers born twin to bulls) will be detected if they were mistakenly kept as replacements. In 95 per cent of these cases they will never breed.

Late-bred cows can also be detected and marked. If all calves are weaned together these late-bred cows will wean smaller calves since the calves will be much younger. They may however fit well into another producer’s program and could be sold as bred cows. Since most herds average five to 10 per cent open or late cows, pregnancy diagnosis is an invaluable and necessary part of any beef operation.

Many other conditions can be eliminated as they pass through the chute. Cows with vaginal prolapses, arthritis, bad feet and poor udders (coke-bottle teats or swing bags) should be marked out as well. There are methods of scoring udders.

Remember vaginal prolapses are generally hereditary so it is wise not to keep any female offspring off cows culled for that weakness. Uterine prolapses on the other hand are not hereditary so the cow can be kept as long as she has rebred. The likelihood of her prolapsing the next year is no more likely than any other cow.

Cracks, long toes or other foot problems need to be culled or attended to in order to enable these animals to be productive the following season. Again some foot problems such as corkscrew claws and corns may be hereditary so don t retain their daughters in the herd.

Poor udders with large teats or broken down suspensory ligaments should be closely scrutinized. These cows are more prone to mastitis. As well, getting newborns to suckle on these large teats or low bags can be a formidable task in the spring, when your time is at a premium.

Temperament is another consideration for culling. My attitude has always been there are too many quiet cows in the world to keep the wild, hard to handle, or fence crawlers. Some cows of course get quite possessive right at calving but if they endanger workers culling should be considered.

A scale is a very valuable aid in selecting unproductive cows. Remember the age-old rule of cows weaning at least half their body weight. Large cows need to wean larger calves in order to be profitable. Weighing calves at weaning and knowing the cow s mature weights makes this decision very easy. Unproductive cows may be poor milkers, over fat or have some underlying disease resulting in unthrifty calves. A mature cow with chronic diarrhea especially if loosing weight is a likely candidate for Johnes disease and is best shipped for slaughter immediately after your veterinarian has made the diagnosis.

Older cows will start to lose teeth at about 10 plus years of age making it difficult to graze efficiently. Mouthing of some cows allows you to estimate age and cull while salvage is still an option. Cows should have all eight front incisor teeth. If the root is visible on the inside incisor the cow is about nine years old. With older cows reproductive longevity was definitely good so these cows are often kept if pregnant as a surrogate. The calf can be removed after birth to orphan onto a young cow that may have lost her calf.

Producers must record potential culls during the year otherwise memories fade by fall. An age-old method of marking is to crop the switch but I prefer notching the ear tag as a very visible reminder that a cow is on the cull list. The cow that almost did your wife in at spring calving cannot be forgotten about by fall culling.

Producers may have questionable culls where the final decision is made at pregnancy checking time. If the open or late rate is lower than expected this is an ideal time to cull these borderline females. This keeps herd sizes the same while eliminating problems.

It is far better to cull early and maintain good salvage value. The quicker you cull and sell the more feed you save. By doing these things the younger more productive cows are maintained in your herd. You cannot make these decisions without clear records. For that proper identification tags must be maintained in both cows and calves. When culling insure all the cull cattle are carrying their RFID tags.

About the author

Contributor

Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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