Culling the Beef Herd

By W.E. McReynolds, Extension Animal Scientist, Washington State University
With the high cost of maintaining a cow herd, a careful culling program is a must. Although most culling is done in the fall when the calves are weaned, culling should be a year-round program. A permanent identification system so animals can be identified without being restrained is a vital part of a culling program. If animals are properly identified, the producer can note cows which should be culled as he observes problems throughout the year.

Culling beef hed page photoSeveral tests should be applied when culling in the autumn. Open cows are the first group which should be removed. Retaining an open cow is seldom justified regardless of the size or quality of her last calf. Any unsoundness which might interfere with the cow bearing or nursing a calf or which might result in unsatisfactory performance on the range in the coming year is a basis for culling. The third basis for culling is the weight and quality of the calf weaned. Remove the unsound cows. Failure to do so might mean that the cow would not wean a calf, and might also result in the loss of the income which would have been received from selling the cow. Cows observed with such problems as lump jaw or cancer eye might in one year become bad enough to cause condemnation of their carcasses. Cows with saggy, poorly attached udders or with large balloon teats which are difficult to nurse should also be culled. Such cows are more subject to udder injury and are a problem in muddy weather since calves often refuse to nurse mud-caked teats.

Other culling considerations may be undertaken. Condition is one additional consideration when culling cows. On the average, the weaning weight of the calf and the amount of fat which the cow puts on her own body have a negative relationship. In other words, fat, patchy cows do not usually raise a good calf. If the herd is on a Cow head onproduction testing program, these cows will usually be eliminated on the basis of the size of calf weaned. If the herd is not performance tested, selling overly fat cows would probably be wise.

Another item which should receive consideration in the culling program is the disposition of individual animals. Cows that are highly nervous disturb the entire herd and should be removed. An occasional cow seems to lack the maternal instinct required to properly care for her calf. Such cows may leave the calf when born or may abandon it if confronted by a dog. On the other extreme is the cow that will charge anything which moves when her calf is young. This type of individual is a hazard to family members or others who might unknowingly come near her. Individuals in both of these categories should be identified at calving time as prime candidates for culling.