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Creating a culling plan could increase profit

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Feb. 15, 2020

“Most ranchers describe cull cows as the ones they just want to get rid of, but I want them to think of cull cows in a different light,” stated University of Wyoming  (UW) Extension Farm and Ranch Specialist Hudson Hill, during the Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days in Riverton on Feb. 5. “Cull cows actually make up 15 to 20 percent of a producer’s annual income, which is pretty substantial in an industry with margins as little as they are.”

Because of this, Hill encouraged producers to create a specific plan for their cull cows. 

“Sure, at the end of the day the plan is to get rid of cull cows, however I want producers to have a specific plan,” he said. “When creating this plan we need to think about why we cull cows, when is the best time to cull cows and how we can improve profits by culling cows.” 

Reasons to cull cows

            Hill noted some of the main reasons producers cull cows are genetics, production, management and economics.

            “We see producers cull cows because they want better genetics or better production. For production, they are usually looking at the weight of the calf or how big the cow is,” Hill said. “Of course, the number one reason producers cull is if their cows are open, which has to do with the production side of things.” 

            “We also see producers cull for management purposes, such as age, mouth, udder, soundness, health and disposition,” he added. “And when it comes to economics, we look at production and which cows are going to make us the most money.” 

            Despite the reasons producers ultimately end up culling cows, Hill noted it is absolutely critical to keep records. 

            “In order to cull a cow based on how many pounds of calf she produces, we need to know which calf is hers. If we want to cull a cow based on bad temperament, we need to remember how she acts during calving season,” Hill said. “To do this, we need to keep records.” 

            Hill also mentioned there is no one-size-fits-all way to decide which cows to cull on an operation. 

            “There is no way I could go out to another producer’s place and tell them which cows to cull,” he noted. “What works on my operation might not work on another operation and vice versa. Producers need to decide what is going to work best for them.” 

Increasing income

            The overall underlying message of Hill’s presentation was to show producers that utilizing a cull cow plan can help them increase income on their operations. 

            Before explaining a few ways to do this, Hill discussed the utility cull cow seasonal index. 

            “Cull cow prices are lowest October through December, then rise back up March through April,” Hill explained. “This doesn’t look anything like a graph of calf prices over time because the cull cow market is the most consistent market cattle producers ever see.” 

            “This means 15 to 20 percent of our income is tied to the most consistent market in our industry,” he added. 

            He also noted this is important because producers can use the predictable cull cow market to increase their income. 

            “Let’s say I have a handful of cows and I didn’t like the way they acted during calving season,” Hill said. “Instead of sending them up on the mountain with the rest of my cattle, I might keep them in a side pasture and wean off their calves a little earlier.” 

            “I would need to make sure I am providing those calves creep feed for a while prior to weaning so I don’t take a hit when I send them on the truck with the other calves,” Hill continued. “But by weaning early, we can cull those cows earlier in August. This means I might have cows weighing 50 pounds heavier so I get an extra 25 cents out of them.” 

            Another way to utilize cull cows to increase income, according to Hill, is to retain ownership of heifers and sell them bred. 

            “When we sell calves in the fall, the heifers, usually the big heifers, fetch the lowest prices,” Hill noted. “We might retain ownership of some of these bigger heifers and sell them bred as a way to add value, change our risk and create more revenue streams.” 

Using tools to create a plan

            Hill concluded his discussion by offering two tools producers can use to help create their culling plan. Both can be found by at the Wyoming Ranch Tools website. 

            “One of the tools is a Cow Valuation Tool because what we might get for a cow has nothing to do with what she is worth,” said Hill. “In order to use the tool we have to know our cow costs. We plug this in with the number of calves we expect her to have and it will calculate how much she is worth.” 

            “The other tool available is the Cull Cow Marketing Tool,” Hill added. “In this tool we plug in her body condition score, weight, expected average daily gain and the number of days we’ll feed her. It will then tell us how much more we can sell her for if we keep her longer.” 

            He continued, “My point is producers need to have a plan for their cull cows because they are more important on an operation than they realize and utilizing a plan may help increase income. These tools are a really great way to start developing a plan or changing it through the years.” Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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