Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist
As we continue to deal with drought and extreme heat, pasture conditions across Oklahoma are deteriorating rapidly. Low hay inventories and high feed cost are forcing cow-calf operation to make some hard decisions. Reducing your cow inventory may be the best option to reduce stress on your grazing system and help stretch your feed/forage resources as long as possible. If you find yourself in this situation right now, consider the following culling criterion.
- Open cows/pregnancy status. From our recent peak inventory in 2018, our national beef cow inventory has decreased by over 6% as of July, 2022. This has been dramatically accelerated by drought in various parts of the U.S. over the past two years. This is the light at the end of the tunnel with respect to the future value of beef calves. Fewer cows in production = fewer calves produced = cycle to higher value for calves. As we cull cows in order to persevere and sustain our cow-calf business operation, I would prioritize holding onto heavy bred cows over short bred cows and cull the opens.
- Cull old cows/keep your young cows. Cows reach their prime production years at about 4 years of age, and around 10 years of age most cows start to wean smaller calves, are more likely to come up open and have health issues.
- Cull on bad disposition. Waspy, aggressive cows that are hard to catch and work. If you have made excuses for keeping them in the past, the current situation is the perfect reason to cull.
- Non-conforming/unsound. Late to breed and calve (see reason number 1), bad feet, bad legs, bad udders, bad eyes, bad teeth, doesn’t shed hair and can’t handle summer heat? Bad health history? Now is the time to get them off the feed bill.
- Finally, if all your cows are bred, due to calve within a 30-day window, have a calm temperament, perfect udders, feet and legs, are 4 years old, etc. and you must reduce inventory, take a look at cow production records. Checking pregnancy status, weighing calves and cows each year at weaning has several long-term benefits. Your best cows wean off the highest percentage of their mature weight each year. These more productive cows are those that combine the genetic potential to conceive/calve early in the season, avoid health issues and have appropriate mature weight and milk potential relative their production environment. For example, if you look at past production records and find that your cow herd averages weaning off 45% of their mature weigh with a range of 35% – 55%. You have determined that you need to cull half of your cows, you should cull the lower producing half that have averaged weaning off less than 45% of their mature weight. Doing so immediately slashes your feed bill and you still own your best cows.
Dr. David Lalman, OSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, has management advice for producers making tough decisions because of drought conditions on SunUp TV from May 2, 2022.