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Midwest/North: Making decisions on cow herd numbers

Erika Lundy for Progressive Cattle Published on 23 October 2020

Marketing of retired breeding stock accounts for roughly 20% of an operation’s annual income. In times of herd consolidations, making the decision of which females to sell might be tough. While it’s easy to part with open cows, late-bred females may be more challenging.

Managing these cows to optimize return requires knowledge, good management and, sometimes, simply some good luck. Here are some tips to determine if she can make it one more year in the herd or if she is a good candidate for delayed culling in hopes of better markets.

Evaluate feed resources. Do you have sufficient roughage sources to sustain the primary cow herd in addition to some females that may be on the culling list? If you do have adequate hay inventory, is it more profitable to sell extra bales instead of trying to add value to cull cows? Make sure your pencil is sharp to evaluate which option might be the best for your operation.

Consider cow age. Data from the University of Florida and the USDA Meat Animal Research Center have assessed pregnancy productivity based on cow age. Through 7 years old, pregnancy rates remain relatively level across age groups. From ages 8-10, pregnancy rates steadily decline each year and more rapidly drop off after 10 years old. While the average pregnancy rate of 12-year-old cows was still above 80% in the USDA dataset, the risk of maintaining that pregnancy due to health problems, lameness and body condition is of greater concern.

Check cow functionality. Winter months can take a toll on females, so reduce the risk by ensuring any females kept are structurally sound, in adequate health and consider their age. Double-check your notes from calving season, and ship females noted for bad udder quality so you won’t be tempted to help next year’s calf nurse again. Research has shown that udder quality directly plays into pounds weaned.

If placing cows on feed, know that while weight can be efficiently added to healthy, thin cows, feed conversion of cull cows increases drastically when fed over approximately 60 days. Timely marketing is necessary to ensure that feed, labor and yardage expenses do not outweigh income. end mark

Erika Lundy
  • Erika Lundy

  • Extension Beef Program Specialist
  • Iowa Beef Center - Iowa State University
  • Email Erika Lundy