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Deciding When to Cull Cows

Posted Jul. 1, 1997

Deciding when to cull cows from the herd and what time of the year to sell a cull cow can have a large impact on the profitability of your cow-calf enterprise. In many instances there just simply seems to be no good time to sell a cow. She either has a calf at side or she is just about to have another one. They are always right on the verge of making a little more money. Although every ranch has to cull and market in a way that will work best for them individually, there may be some common principles from which all of us can benefit.

One principle is to cull a cow before the time when she can hardly load in the trailer and brings only a canner price at the market. Chances are the last calf or two she raised have been below the average weaning weight for the herd. Granted, it is not economical to sell a good older cow while she is producing top calves, but you should sell her before she is completely "down the hill". In many herds cull cows and bulls can account for up to 15 to 20 percent of the annual income, so they have a big effect on the annual profitability.

On today's market a high dressing utility cow could bring in excess of 40 cents a pound whereas a low dressing cutter may only bring 30 cents. If she weighs 1000 pounds that is $100 difference per head or 33.3 percent. That is considerably more than the profit most cow-calf producers have been making the last couple of years. If you can increase cull cow weight and price by even a conservative 10 percent, it will reduce the price you need to break even on your calves.

Another principle worth remembering is to sell cull cows early, like September, rather than waiting for the market to hit bottom in November. The chart below shows the typical seasonal price pattern for cull cows at Oklahoma City. You will notice that after September the price goes south at a fairly rapid pace until it bottoms out in November. The price for a cow sold at the same weight in September rather than November could be 10 to 15 percent more per pound just because of the seasonal price difference.

Selling cull cows at some time other than the peak marketing period of October and November will generally result in a higher price per pound. If you normally vaccinate and treat for lice, grubs, and worms in September, culling or selling before these costs are incurred on the cull cows can be an additional advantage. Maybe this is not a big savings, but every nickel and dime helps.

With much improved calf prices anticipated for this fall, there will be a tendency to try to get one more calf out of those older cows. However, because of higher expected prices each cow-calf producer should strive to have each cow in their herd at her very best performance for the next several years.

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