Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Beef cattle experts discuss consideration for open cows

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The question of keeping open cows, especially young cows, is a fairly common conversation according to Kansas State University (KSU) Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) Veterinarian Bob Larson. Larson joins BCI Faculty Brad White, Philip Lancaster and Dustin Pendell during the BCI CattleChat podcast dated March 5 to discuss the topic.

                  Larson shares many producers debate the cost of replacing open cows when the market value for cull cows might rise and the chances of the cow rebreeding in the future. 

Financial analysis

                  “Producers often question if they should keep open cows through the upcoming calving season and try to rebreed the cow,” Larson notes. “However, it is also easy to consider current cull cow prices and the possibility of barely breaking even or losing money when she could rebreed next year and remain productive in the herd.” 

Through a financial analysis taking fair market value prices for calves and cull cows, as well as annual cow maintenance costs, Larson evaluated different scenarios to answer some of the questions producers ask. 

                  “As I run through scenarios, it is hard to make keeping the open cow pay off in the end, even with the excuse she has better than average calves,” he says. “While the magnitude of this effect certainly depends on the prices of the scenarios, it was always the best option from a financial standpoint to cull the cow immediately.” 

Considerations for rebreeding

                  Lancaster shares he isn’t surprised a financial analysis makes it tough to rationalize keeping the open cow in the herd, however as a nutritionist, he questions if the cow’s infertility is related to a lack of nutrition on the part of the producer or another underlying issue.              

                  “If it was my fault as a producer the cow wasn’t in the best condition to rebreed, I would have to consider if I would be better off to keep the cow and get her back into good condition for successful rebreeding because I already have many costs invested in her,” Lancaster adds. 

                  Additionally, he notes the probability of the cow having a successful pregnancy in the next breeding season is another consideration for producers to keep in mind, especially for younger cows.

                  “Young cows would have to produce another five to six calves after the first open season in order to pay off keeping the cow open for one season,” Lancaster shares. 

                  Larson adds it would be safe for producers to assume the cow, in good condition, should have the same pregnancy success as the rest of the herd if retained. Although, he notes one could make the argument the cow might be at a higher risk of showing up open again. 

                  “To give the cow the benefit of the doubt, I wouldn’t expect her to be more likely to get pregnant over the rest of the cows in the herd,” Larson shares. 

                  He continues, “I struggle to make keeping the open cow a financially good decision. If the cow doesn’t bring a check every year with a calf, she has to bring a check another way.” 

Managing depreciation

                  Pendell states cull cow feed prices and labor might be costs producers incur while keeping an open cow, but one of the most overlooked costs of keeping an open cow is depreciation. 

                  “Because depreciation is a non-cash expense, it tends to be forgotten, but it is generally one of the largest expenses,” he explains. “Cows decrease in value because of injury, reproductive efficiency and age.” 

                  To reduce depreciation costs, Pendell notes there are two main options. 

                  “Producers should consider if there is a lower replacement cost or a higher salvage value,” says Pendell. “Or producers could simply increase productivity.”

                  Either way, he notes, depreciation is a significant expense which comes into play when considering keeping or culling an open cow. 

                  White adds this time of year is a great time to go over the books and find any other overlooked expenses to take into consideration for the next year of production.

                  Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

Back to top