Feeding Culls May Be Effective Marketing Strategy

Producers searching for inventive ways to add dollars to their beef cow-calf operations may want to consider retaining and feeding cull cattle as a value-added marketing strategy.

Based on the last six years of Iowa Beef Cow Business Records analysis data, 21 percent of gross revenue for cow-calf operations comes from the sale of culled breeding animals. Therefore, selling cull animals represents a significant portion of the income generated in a beef cow enterprise. If a producer can improve the weight and value of cull animals while keeping the cost low, significant improvement in income can occur.

Many factors influence cull values, but two that producers can use to their advantage are price seasonality and weight and condition of harvested cattle. Typically, culls have their lowest market period from October to December, mainly because of market saturation. February and March markets can range from $3 to $4 per cwt. higher. Therefore, adding weight and condition to cull cattle through the fall and early winter has the potential to garner a better bottom line.

This strategy has many challenges as well as opportunities. Adding weight to mature cows is not efficient, especially if a producer is doing it using stored feedstuffs. Cows can require 10 to 14 lbs. of dry matter intake for every pound of gain.

Producers either need to provide a very low cost feed source, such as corn stalks with quite a bit of downed corn or stockpiled pastures, or, drylotted cows should be fed a high energy ration so they achieve the best conversions possible.

In a study conducted at South Dakota State University, cull cows were fed a high energy ration of 76 percent corn, 15 percent corn silage and 9 percent protein supplement. The animals gained 2.8 to 3.1 lbs. per day. As the SDSU study demonstrates, it is possible to achieve decent gains with cull cows. Additionally, research shows cows implanted with a moderate-level implant can see a 10 to 15 percent gain advantage.

As the culls gain weight and condition, their dressing percentage when sold as beef rises. Generally, value increases as dress percentage increases. And, past markets show an 8 to 12 percent price increase moving a harvested cow from canner to cutter or utility.

Producers who want to add value to culls should first make sure they’re working with healthy, sound animals. Cows that are already fat won’t gain in the lot, so it’s best to use animals with a body condition score of 3 to 5. It’s also best if culls can be managed separate from the rest of the herd so pregnant cows aren’t gaining the same amounts as the culls.

[November 25th, 2009]

Rick Rasby
Dr. Rick Rasby, Professor of Animal Science
Animal Science, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Lincoln, NE