Profit Tip: Feeding and Marketing Cull Cows
Sale of cull beef cows accounts for 15 to 25% of yearly gross revenues of cow-calf operations in the United States.
Total quality losses determined by the 1999 National Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit were $68.82/head compared to $69.90/head in 1994. The top three losses were excess external fat, inadequate muscling, and trim loss from arthritic joints. The audit concluded that much of this loss could be recaptured through improved management, monitoring, and marketing.
A recent 2007 audit shows overall improvement. Less bruising and fewer injunction-site blemishes were among the areas in which producers showed more care in their cattle handling, practices that can prevent discounts at the packer.
Many beef and dairy producers view market cows as culls rather than an important source of beef for the food industry. Beef from market cows is widely used in the retail and food service sectors in a variety of product forms, not all of which is ground.
Producers should identify opportunities to add value to market cows, as it may be possible to feed cows for a period of time before marketing to increase BW, improve body condition, and increase carcass quality and yield. Producers lose an average of $69.90 of potential revenues per non-fed animal harvested in the United States, but $20 per animal could be recovered by feeding cull cows an energy-dense diet before harvest.
Feeding cull cows an energy-dense diet has been shown to increase carcass fat content, increase lean meat yield, increase marbling, produce whiter external fat, and improve cooked meat palatability. Limited research has indicated that BW gain, feed efficiency, carcass traits, and overall eating quality can be improved by implanting cull cows with steroid implants. In many of the previous studies, cows were fed for 56 d or less. For most cows to improve one USDA quality grade they would need to be fed from 60 to 100 d.
Cull cow prices generally follow a consistent seasonal pattern. Prices are normally the lowest in November, December and January and are at their highest level in March, April and May. Prices during the summer months are typically near the average for the year. If overall cattle prices are rising sharply or declining sharply in a year, then this price pattern may not be as apparent. However, by analyzing prices over a number of years the seasonal price patterns can be determined. Since cull cow prices in one year may be around $30/cwt. and in another year may be close to $50/cwt., it is somewhat difficult to evaluate prices over a number of years. However, by expressing monthly prices as a percent of the annual average price, a monthly index value is created.
By simply considering this seasonal pattern, it may be profitable to feed cows that are culled in the late fall or early winter into the spring months to take advantage of the seasonal prices. On the other hand, cows that are culled during calving season or early summer may be most profitable if sold at the time of culling. However, the other two factors (cull cow grades and feed costs) still need to be considered (Feuz 1995).
Managing and Marketing Cull Cows (PDF 70KB)
Marketing Cull Cows - How & When? (PDF 210KB)
Dr. Rick Funston, Assistant Professor of Animal Science
West Central Research & Extension Center - North Platte, North Platte, NE