BEEF Daily

What Makes A Cull Cow? Plus Win HeatHolder Socks


Win HeatHolder socks for answering the question, what are your top considerations for culling a cow?

Over the weekend, we pregnancy-checked our cowherd. The veterinarian used ultrasound technology to better pinpoint the due dates; after the dust settled, we had a handful of open cows to add to our cull list this year.

The trouble with open cows is they can force you to keep older or poorer-performing cows in their place; whereas if you have fewer open and late cows, you are in a better position to be more selective with your cull list.


A Closer Look: A Backstage Look At Fall Preg-Check


A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “9 Things To Consider Before Culling A Cow.”

The blog featured comments from Jane Parish, Mississippi State University Extension beef cattle specialist, who offered her thoughts on the nine factors to consider in making a cow-culling decision. These included pregnancy status, poor performance, age, mouth, udder, structural soundness, health problems, disposition and when to cull.


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The post sparked a great conversation about how our readers make culling decisions and what factors they consider in removing her from the herd.

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation also has guidelines for culling cows. Deke Alkire writes, “For most cattle producers, culling cows is not an easy task. However, some culling needs to be done each year to maintain optimal productivity. Records on each cow's yearly production would be beneficial when making culling decisions, but collecting some information when the cows are processed can give you a good place to start. Cattlemen should make it a point to evaluate all breeding females at least once a year. Weaning is likely the most convenient time to do this evaluation. In addition to their vaccinations, cows should also be pregnancy-tested, evaluated for structural soundness, and aged based on the condition of their teeth. This information will take a little extra time to collect, but will be valuable when determining a culling order. In addition, this culling order will be useful during a drought, as it is usually more profitable to cull unproductive cows at the beginning of a drought than to try to hold on until the drought is over.”

I got to thinking about these considerations when looking over our cull list this weekend, but the decision to sell a breeding animal isn’t always black and white.

This week, each blog will feature a question for readers to weigh in on. And each day, we will select 2-3 winners to take home a pair of Heat Holders® socks. The makers of HeatHolders socks claim they are the warmest thermal socks in the world. "They are over 7x warmer than regular cotton socks and 3x warmer than ordinary thermal socks. They are better than heated, electric or battery-operated socks because you can just put them on without fussing with batteries, wires etc. Heat Holders® means No more cold feet!"

So as the weather is headed nowhere but colder, a pair of these cozy socks are sure to come in handy for many of our readers. Thus, we'll randomly select our winners from the comments left on each blog.

So, today, the question for your input is: What are your top considerations for culling a cow? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below to be eligible to win a pair of HeatHolders socks.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 38

Dotty Macy (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

As a seed stock producer, pedigrees have to be considered and maybe the investment gets a second chance. I usually have my vet help with the decision with an examination. It usually is a reluctant decision on my part, but may have to happen. We are not a commercial herd, but a small Charolais one.

Rocky Top Farm (not verified)
on Oct 29, 2013

Open # 1, calf raising ability #2, udder #3 age becomes a factor when the other 3 do not work anymore.

clay (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

open at preg check If open, condition of ovaries and uterus.
what kind of calf did she just wean
condition of cow-- is she an easy keeper or hard keeper
mouth-- condition of teeth or lack of teeth
any bad quarters or bad teats

arlene lagerquist (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

with us its ALWAYS disposition first we may even decide to "winter" over an open cow if she is easy to handle especially at calving time

Bo (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Talking bout culling cows. Ive never been a fan of pulling bulls out in a certain amount of days. I do like the concept of having all the calves in a certain amount of days though. In my opinion when u pull your bulls out then your opening a door to have a cow nonbred. Thats cutting your throat. I suggest leaving bulls with cows till they start calving . Then all cows have the best chance to breed. You dont to pasture bulls seperatly as long either. If you have a cow or cows that dont calve in your time frame . Then take her and sell her ,she will bring lots more $ as a bred cow than an open cow. Your goin through all the motions anyway , so why not get the most $ out your already investment. My opinion of a cull cow is one that has bad utters,bad body structure, poor performance,bad disposition. If they dont breed back in a timely matter. Just sell them.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Cull cow priorities

Age. Productivity. Frame score. Udder quality, dissposition. Ease to settle by AI in 1-2 services. Body score. Weaning weight to body weight ratio.

Ron Dunphy (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

If the cow is not pregnant, she is history.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

If the cow is open? Why? If it's due to factors other than the cow we then look at age, past production, availability and cost of feed. And in some cases carcass data from past calves. Difficult to keep an open cow but in some cases it may be justified.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Right behind PG status should be disposition. Live is too short to work with mean or dangerous cows. Especially when a lot of the time it is family or some lesser experienced help who might get hurt by a bad cow

Alex Carone (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

She gives us a calf to sell or herself to sell, every year no exceptions.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Body Condition Score is very important! A BCS score of 3 or less means problems. She may not have many teeth or other problems that will make her prime for culling.

Amy Patrick (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Our cows are very high quality and great producers. About the only reason we need to cull a cow is age and physical condition and are they able to make it through the winter.

Amy Patrick (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Our cows are very high quality and great producers. About the only reason we need to cull a cow is age and physical condition and are they able to make it through the winter.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Preg Test Result

Bob Kinkead (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

structural soundness , the cow is our combine she like a combine must first and foremost be able to move over our forages to do the harvesting. Next -age(teeth) we have had 18 yr old cows still producing, some seem to do well with NO front teeth others not so well therefor we use condition not teeth as our indicator. We are located in MO. fescue country,spring calvers who are barren are retained and bred for fall calving then sold, unless culled for one of the above reasons.bad temperment comes from bad managment,when you cull that cow for temperment reasons try to cull the part of your behaviour made her that way.

bob neese (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Number one reason is being open at preg check. (however, I don't always cull for this. If she's young and productive, I may move her to the next season- spring or fall.)
In no particular order......
High-headed, difficult to manage cows that "take the herd with them".
Big, fat, lazy cows that wean sub-par calves.
Cows that require my intervention in helping them "mother" their babies.
Cows that become "stifled", and unable to maintain good condition and keep up. Sometimes, I've regretted trying to get "one more year"out of them.
I'm becoming more attentive to culling cows with hooves that crack or toes that grow and curl.

S. Jones (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Top Considerations:
- Pregnant
- Disposition
- Performance

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

If a cow looses a calf at any time prior to weaning, we look at why (was it predator, sickness, defects), what is her history (normally strong, big, productive calves; or has she had "weaker calves in the past), what is her disposition when she looses a calf (does she care), what type of mother is she usually? If she is a good cow, with a good disposition and mothering instincts, who raises a good calf, and the loss is not due to birth defects/genetics, then we will try to keep her to give her another chance, or sell her as a bred cow in the fall. If she doesn't have any one of those characteristics, she's sold immediately. In the fall when evaluating who to cull we look at weaning weights, calving ease, calving dates, disposition, and age of the cow. If a cow has a good disposition and weans a good calf, she stays. We have a couple of cows who are in their early 20's still weaning off good sized, healthy calves, so they stay. We have some young, good looking cows, who are weaning off calves who are a bit lighter, they go. It's a tough decision, but ultimately we sell cattle by the pound. We can't afford to have cows weaning off 5 weights.

Tidwell farms (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Top priority is a PRODUCTIVE COW. That's why we have them!
Second is her ability to raise a quality calf. BCS, structural soundness, udder capacity and structure & disposition all influence her overall ability as a productive cow.

Macy (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Didn't breed back, period.
Then by age & condition.

Anonymouschris (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

For us age of cow and her previous years success matter most. We have an old girl right now that the vet said send due to age and teeth, but we are giving her one more season because she is a 6 and never missed a calf. So we are breaking our own golden rule.

on Oct 28, 2013

We cull cows in our commercial herd based on a few reasons.
1. Open cows are automatically culled. Research proves year after year that you can't afford to hold over an open cow, or roll her into the next breeding group (we calve both fall and spring cows).
2. When cows calve, their udders, mothering ability and temperament are scored. If one of these factors are poor enough, notes are taken in the calving book and later they're placed on a cull list. Usually their calves are weaned first and they're shipped. (Also, if we have a good cow who loses a calf, we'll take the calf off of a poorly scored cow and graft it to the good cow and then ship the poor cow.)
3. Ratios. We track data on all of our cows and their calves - birth weights, weaning weights, body condition, etc. When we need to cull further (or have the ability to do so) cows who have an MPA that is below 100% (herd average) are usually the ones who go to town next.
4. We rarely have to use this, but if a cow has a calf that has a genetic defect, or other health issue (such as hernia, which is highly heritable) those cows are culled as well. We also evaluate any other progeny from that cow who may have remained in the herd as replacement heifers for potential culling.

Thanks for your posts on culling - while all of us in the ranching industry have a heart for our cattle, it's also a business too - and cattle who don't make money, are dangerous to work around or struggle to raise a healthy calf aren't worth your investment in them to remain in the herd.

Ed Fowler (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Why is it that the cow with the strongest "motherly tendencies" (will take you in a second when you get near her calf) always raises one of the best calves in your herd?

While I only culled one for disposition, there were some I was rather grateful when they preg-tested open.

on Oct 28, 2013

Ed - I agree with you that there are cows with excellent mothering abilities can be high headed. We don't usually cull cows like those, unless they are a significant threat. (We tag a few calves at weaning because we couldn't get close at birth - and that's ok.) Most of our disposition culls are of cows who just don't care for their calf - whether it's beating them up at birth and not caring for them after the hormones have worn off, calving and then leaving the calf (sometimes with the sack still over the calf's nose), etc. Those cows usually get another shot - especially if they're young - but if they consistently show a problem like this, they're culled. When you can replace a cow like that with one who does her job well and without assistance - you're money ahead.

And I agree with you - no one is usually ever sad when the high headed cow, who requires you {to walk softly and carry a big stick} when you tag their calf, is called open.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Our operation culls somewhat rigorously. Bulls are only out for 45 days, and only preg our heifers. If anything is open they go down the road. Same with late calves in the spring out of our cows, or any cow that is dry when we gather to move to summer pasture. We also keep a list of any cows that have bad udders or large tits when they're heifer or 3 year olds, they go down the road too. Then the lump jaws and crippled cows get sent down the road too.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013


Kickin it in the Sticks (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

What are your top considerations for culling a cow?

Some of the top considerations for me when culling a cow include:
- Conformation/Soundness
- Milking ability
- Mothering ability
- Calf growth (birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight)
- Disposition
- Forage utilization of the cow
- Frame size
- Body score
- Age
- AI settlement
- Birthing ease
A good cow with raise her calf to have great potential due to her mothering ability and therefore leaves the farmer with a greater opportunity to have a higher profit from his/her calf crop.

Backroad Country Girl (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

The following are things I consider cull factors (listed in no particular order):
1) Cows that have very little teeth left/age of the cow (if they are unable to keep themselves in a manageable body score and still raise calves)
2) Cows that have bad udders, whether it is mastitis, teat structure, do not produce enough milk, or quarters of the udder not working
3) Cows that have difficulty calving, unwilling to accept their calves, or do not mother/care about their calves (even though they may still let them come up and nurse)
4) Cows that do not raise good quality calves
5) Cows that have poor confirmation/structure
6) Cows that are too light muscled
7) The docility of the cow
8) Cows that do not stick/remain open after the breeding season (I tend to give them a second chance, but after that if they still remain open… then they are gone)
9) If they are a hermaphrodite or have any other issues
10) If they have a high susceptibility to disease

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

If the cow is open, she's culled. Other things I look at are conformation and history.

761162056 (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

1. Open cow/failure to breed
2. Disposition (usually).....however, we did keep a high headed, flighty female that produced twin calves after being AI'd; and she also provided for
both calves nutritionally. She will stay another year.

Jim Shaw (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

I keep a cow as long as she produces a calf every year, re-breeds and her calf ranks in the top 2/3 of the class. The difficulty arises in balancing between choosing replacement heifers and the old cows that are still producing top calves.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Any cow that is structurally unsound or has a nutritional dysfunction is culled. Being open does not constitute a decision to cull because the cost of replacing her is higher than keeping her for another year. If a cow is open two years, she is culled.

Amanda (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

In the spring after calving we decide on our a group of cull cows and place them in the pasture without a bull. Those cows either have mean dispositions, bad udders, bad feet, or are too old to stay in the herd. Then in the fall at preg checking time we sell all open cows.

Steve JK West (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

Good point,, I used recording records mostly, if a cow isnt dropping a calf inside of 12 months. BUT yes this mythic could cost One winter-Plus feeding, if used only.

I or we always did a PG check if in the chute. "Why not",

Doesnt take that long of time and NO You dont need a Vet. to do it.. BUT, nice to have those throw-away long shelved gloves tho..LoL.
With a pale of soft soap water too boot, or a must for the cow`s sack.

Only "time" i remember losing on doing it, WAS arguing over WHOM was just going to be the one doing it.. sux when Not having those gloves.

Funny,, I hated doing this, but miss it. I go do it for free now..
It true, you dont really know what you`ll miss, till it is Gone.

billy joe (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

I cull on age,cow soundness,last calf & feed resorcees

Denise (not verified)
on Oct 28, 2013

If I was able to, I would first look through the history of the cow to see how well she and her calves have preformed in the past to see if it would be worth it to try and keep her for a while to see if it was just a fluke.
Disposition would be #2
Then age and body condition.

PJ (not verified)
on Oct 30, 2013

I have a very in depth cattle program and the first calf heifers get a second year to have a bigger calf, if not, they go down the road...the cows have the same criteria but more dependent on their they get older their calves get lighter, etc. Soundness is also always a consideration...we usually don't even keep heifers with bad dispositions so we don't have to worry about that with our cow herd unless one pops up during calving and if she wants to eat you, she goes bye-bye!! Age is not really a factor for us as they usually start having lighter calves or get lame before age becomes a real problem...

mitch forseille (not verified)
on Nov 1, 2013

First off, any dry cow in fall is culled, even if the wolves or bears took her calf. Secondly, any open cow at preg checking gets fed till February and then sold

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Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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