Culling for profit

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

If she costs too much to keep, make the most you can on the cull

In a year like this, when forage supply is low, it is an expensive proposition to carry unproductive cows. Moreover, the value of lean beef is currently high and corn crop projections have reduced the price of corn. It might be an opportune time to add profit to cows who aren’t paying their way.

Selling cull cows tends to be an activity that producers allow to happen on its own. You don’t strategically time the sale; you tend to sell when you preg check and wean. Of course, that’s the same time everyone else is doing it. If you can move the sale of the cow a couple of months either way, the market might be better due to lower supply.

Given market conditions, commodity prices and general market timing, it can make economic sense to put cull beef cows into a feed yard.
One path toward generating more value for cull cows is to fatten the cow for about three months for the “white fat” market. To do that, put cows on a high-concentrate diet, and feed as if they are feedlot heifers. The time it takes to put gain on moves the marketing of the cows from the typical lower prices at weaning to a time of the year with typically higher prices paid for cull cows.  

Your forage requirement is dramatically reduced for feeding out cull cows compared to carrying cows. Gestating cows will often get 20 pounds of hay per day. A cow on a finishing diet gets two to five pounds of hay, with the balance of her diet consisting of a grain ration. The amount of finishing ration that a thin cull cow will eat in a dry lot can be surprising. Cows on finishing diets will eat 20 to 30 percent more pounds of dry matter than you might expect. But from an efficiency perspective, this is gratifying—their ADG will also be higher than expected.

Making feeding cull cows work
Know your market—when and where cattle are going to be sold. If the market demands that they be white fat, they need to be fed with as little forage as possible for at least 10 to 12 weeks. And, they need to be sound—not lame, no broken-mouth cows. At best they will be thin, having just weathered the nutritional drain of a nursing calf. This provides a big frame to hang a lot of flesh on, and in this condition, they’re more efficient at gaining than if they were already fleshy.

Have them gain fast and as efficiently as possible. A typical backgrounding ration will have an energy level of 0.48-0.50 Mcal. Cull cows would be expected to gain three pounds per day on that. If you push the energy level to that of a typical finishing diet, say 0.61-0.62 NEg, you would expect cows to gain over four pounds per day. High rates of gain reduce yardage. In a forage-short year, high energy diets spare forage. Finish with high energy rations, 0.61 to 0.62 mcal NEg which roughly corresponds to eight to 10 percent forage; eight to 10 percent of a 40-percent feedlot supplement; and 80 to 85 percent corn.

Use growth promotant feed additives where possible (Bovatec or an ionophore).

Aggressively implant. This will tend to increase the protein requirement of the cows along with the average daily gain and feed-to-gain ratios.

Use several steps over a two to three week period to get them on full feed.

You can start them on Cattle Charge or Full Throttle. Add corn at roughly 0.75 to a pound up to two pounds. Keep them on that for two to three days, then increase another two pounds. Stop when they don’t clean up the ration.

If using a self-feeder

If you wish to exploit a forage base and self-feeder, use Cadence 50 C. Here you can expect approximately the upper two-pound range to close to three pounds average daily gain.

If you have no interest in restricted feeding, you can finish on Endpoint at 200 pounds with 1,800 pounds of corn. Here you would be targeting 3.5 pounds of average daily gain on cows.

If bunk-feeding, bunk space is critical. Remember cows are much bigger than the usual feedlot calf—10 inches of bunk space is not enough. It’s better to double bunk space. Shoot for 20 to 24 inches per cow.

Don’t feed the parasites. Vaccinate and treat for parasites. And as you are figuring your return on investment, don’t forget that you need to budget higher transportation costs. You’ll get 29 to 31 head per pot load.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.