Beef cattle are our number-one product in our area’s number-one industry, agriculture. Keeping our herds profitable is the main ingredient in the sustainability of this important cog in our economic wheel. One area that can get some cow-calf managers in trouble is not pulling the trigger on timely culling of the herd. By missing windows to discard unproductive cows and bulls, we not only miss the quick cash their sales can generate, we also endure the costs of carrying these animals well past their productive prime. My colleague and good friend, Phil Blevins, ANR agent in Washington County, has written an extension publication on this very topic. It can be found in its entirety online by searching the VCE public website for Publication #400-761. Below are some important excerpts from Phil’s work.

Occasionally a cow has to be culled immediately due to injuries or other problems, and you have to take the price offered at the time. However, with proper planning, producers can receive higher prices for cull cows from the market. A vital part of this plan is regular monitoring of the cow herd to determine which cows need to be culled. This monitoring plan should include a veterinarian to help with pregnancy determination and early detection of diseases, such as cancer eye or lumpy jaw.

Having a skilled veterinarian check for pregnancy after the breeding season will allow culling decisions to be planned, making more marketing options available. For example, open cows, which are otherwise productive, can be bred outside your breeding season and marketed as a bred cow for a premium. Other factors to consider when making culling decisions include cows that have udder problems or produce calves that are below acceptable weaning-weight levels when compared to herdmates. Cows with bad dispositions or those that continuously cause problems (such as riding down fences) should also be considered cull prospects.

Cull cows and bulls represent a significant portion of the net income of Virginia beef farmers. According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) 2007 Market Cow and Bull Beef Quality Audit, the sale of cull beef and dairy cows and bulls accounts for as much as 20 percent of the income generated on these farms in the United States (NCBA 2007). Management and marketing strategies that enhance the value of these animals are worth considering. Research has also demonstrated that consumers are concerned about the well-being of the animals that produce the meat they consume. Producers cannot ignore this trend.

Beef from cull cows is called nonfed beef, meaning cull cows do not spend any significant time in a feedlot. Also included in the nonfed classification are cull bulls, and heifers or steers that are too mature to achieve a grade above U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “Utility.” While much of the beef from these animals is used as ground beef, the high-value primal cuts, such as the round, loin and rib, and the subprimals, such as the sirloin, ribeye and tenderloin are used by fast-food outlets, airlines, family restaurants and grocery stores. Therefore, it is important that beef producers make every effort to deliver an animal that will yield a high-quality meat product for these consumers.

There is definite seasonality to price. Cull-cow prices peak from late spring through mid-summer, decline to a low point in late December/early January and then begin increasing. According to market data from the Virginia Weekly Auction Reports, cows marketed from May through July in the Breaker category (averaged over the three-month period) sold for $6.94 per carcass weight more (or $83.64 for a 1,200-pound cow) than those marketed during the two-month period of December and January. Price information from CattleFax from 1994 through 2008 on cows marketed as U.S. Utility demonstrates a similar national trend. This provides producers with another possibility for increasing income from cull-cow sales.

We are nearing the time when selling off cull cows is historically most profitable. Take a good look at your herd and see if there are opportunities to improve your herd and bottom line today.

Upcoming Events

July 24--Required Sheep and Goat Grant Meeting, SW AREC, Glade Spring Research Farm, Emory, 5-9 p.m.

July 28-Aug 5--Rich Valley Fair, Rich Valley.

Aug. 4--Last day to consign calves to the Aug. 21 VQA Sale.

Aug. 8--Tri-State Beef Conference, Washington County Fairgrounds, Abingdon. Pre-register by calling the Smyth County Extension Office at 276-783-5175.

Aug. 11--Secure Milk Supply Dairy Meeting, Farm Bureau Insurance Office, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Aug. 10--Smyth County schools re-open.

Aug. 21--VQA Calf Sale.

Aug. 24--Forage Field Day, SW AREC (Glade Spring Research Farm), Emory.

Oct. 11--Smyth County Ag Day for fourth-graders, W-L Hanger, Chilhowie.

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Dr. Andy Overbay is Smyth County’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent.

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