By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Extension Animal Scientist
Cull cows represent approximately 20% of the gross income of any commercial cow operation. Cull beef cows represent 10% of the beef that is consumed in the United States. Therefore, ranchers need to make certain that cow culling is done properly and profitably.
Selling cull cows when they will return the most income to the rancher requires knowledge about cull cow health and body condition. Proper cow culling will reduce the chance that a cow carcass is condemned at the packing plant and becomes a money drain for the entire beef industry.
Sell cows when they are in moderate body condition. Send older cows to market before they become too thin. Generally, severely emaciated cattle have lightly muscled carcasses with extremely small ribeyes and poor red-meat yield. This greatly lessens the salvage value of such animals. Just as importantly, emaciated cattle are most often those which “go down” in transit, as they lack sufficient energy to remain standing for long periods of time.
Cow slaughter facilities are often located many miles from Southern Plains ranches. Therefore, the cows are hauled long distances and for long periods of time before being harvested. Severe bruising, excessive carcass trim, increased condemnations, and even death are the net results of emaciation.
Very thin cows have a low dressing percentage (weight of the carcass divided by the live weight). Because of these factors, cow buyers will pay less per pound for very thin, shelly, cull cows. In addition, thin cows will weigh less. As you combine these two factors (weight and price per pound), thin cull cows return many fewer dollars at sale time than if the cow was sold when in moderate body condition.
If they are already too thin, a short (45 to 60 days) time in a drylot with a high quality feed will put condition back on the cows very efficiently. There is no need to put excess flesh or fat on cows. They become less efficient at converting feed to body weight after about 60 days and the market will not pay for excessive fatness on cows.