Garfield County Cooperative Extension

Consider Culling early and often for cowherd productivity

Rick Nelson Extension Educator, Ag/4-H

Culling cows and bulls eliminates undesirable animals from the herd and makes room for more productive animals to be added into a beef enterprise. The best time of year to cull depends on the local environment and climate that an operation is located in. Most cow-calf ranches operate on a spring calving program, selling their calf crop each fall. Culling open cows in the fall is the most popular method, but cows can also be evaluated throughout the spring as well.

Culling early and often to keep the ranch operating as efficiently as possible. Cows only generate a profit  and earn their keep if they produce a calf each spring.

If cows are culled at branding or at weaning, the decision to cull should be made prior to any other management practice. BQA Guidelines require a producer to never vaccinate, deworm, or otherwise treat a cow before deciding to remove her from the herd. Following this practice serves a twofold purpose: first, it saves the operator money; second, drug withdrawal periods apply to cull cows being sold for slaughter. Always keep records of such treatments.

Instead of – or in addition to – traditional fall culling, cattle producers can evaluate cows during the spring branding season, then sort off dry cows or cows that appear unable to raise a healthy calf. This conserves grass and other resources for more productive cows.

Most operations cull cows that come in dry or open in the fall. Old cows, broken-mouthed cows or cows with bad udders are also usually culled. The standard procedure involves running the whole cowherd through a chute and scheduling with a veterinarian to check for pregnancy via palpation or ultrasound. If an open cow is allowed to roll to another breeding season herd, be sure to identify her. One does not want to let her become a continual carryover.

Cull cows are most likely sold to become ground beef. This product typically generates the lowest price at the local livestock auction, but there are opportunities for producers to add value to this product. Some packers may be willing to pay more for cull animals they can purchase in larger lots, or possibly offer to help with the trucking for full loads. Grouping cows by age, frame size and flesh can help bring a higher price as well.

Bulls are usually tested prior to the onset of the breeding season, and those found to be unsatisfactory are culled.

Bulls can be culled around age five, when they still have useful, productive breeding years ahead of them, in order to command a higher price from a smaller cow-calf producer. This also ensures that the bulls won't grow too large to service heifers, which are smaller-framed than adult cows. Waiting to sell the bull until he is older will get more years of use out of him for the producer, but the bull will bring a lower price when he is culled.

Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is implied.


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