Cows in field late summer

Making the decision to cull a cow from the herd can be difficult for many producers, but ultimately it comes down to finances.

“It costs $600 to $1,000 a year to maintain a cow,” says Denise Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist based in Vinton. “You can’t afford to maintain her for two years without a calf.”

She says any cows with physical issues, such as eye, teeth, feet or leg problems, should be culled.

Open cows intended for spring calving could be rolled into a fall calving herd, Schwab says, adding some cow-calf operations adhere to a consistent culling rate and bring in replacement heifers annually.

“Is that something like 15% of the herd? Keeping 20% of your heifers will get you to that 15% level since some of them won’t get bred,” she says.

Cows bred for spring calving should be preg checked now if they have not been already, Schwab says.

Other factors must be weighed when making culling decision, says Kacie McCarthy Extension cow-calf specialist with the University of Nebraska.

The lack of forage could necessitate cutting numbers, she says. With drought conditions in Iowa and other states, pasture simply may not be available.

McCarthy says good record-keeping will provide producers with the data they need to make informed culling decisions.

“Identify those poor-doing cows,” she says. “That will tell you who has bad feet and legs, udder or teeth issues, bad dispositions and other physical conditions.”

Records should also indicate milk production and other information.

Since it takes six to seven calves for a cow to pay for herself, McCarthy says keeping productive cows in the herd for as long as possible is imperative.

“Look at how productive she has been in the last couple of years, where she ranks in weaning weight and other areas,” she says.

Open cows are always good candidates for culling, McCarthy says.

Cows could be culled as producers look to change or upgrade herd genetics.

“If you are targeting specific goals, good records will help you target replacement heifers to meet those goals,” McCarthy says.

She says selling cows during favorable market conditions could also be an incentive for producers.

Monitoring body condition can also help keep cows in the herd longer.

“You want to do all you can to ensure you are setting that cow up for success in the breeding season,” McCarthy says.

Schwab says seedstock producers may have a strategy designed to keep their cow herd younger.

“If you do that, turning over the breeding herd more frequently also provides you with an opportunity to sell bred cows,” she says. “Those cows will have quite a bit of value.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.