Profit Tip: Feeding Your Culls may be an Effective Marketing and Management Strategy
Based on information from the 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 producers can improve the weight and value of cull animals while keeping the cost low, significant improvement in income can occur.
Marketing and Management
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 value 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 and marketing them after January has the potential to increase profit potential.
This strategy has many challenges as well as opportunities. Adding weight to mature cows is not efficient. Cows need in the range of 10 to 14 lbs. of dry matter intake for every pound of gain.
Producers could provide a very low cost feed source, such as corn stalks with some downed corn or stockpiled pastures with some supplementation. Drylotted cows that are bunk fed a complete diet have the best conversions of feed to gain. When forages and grains or by-products are cheap, this may be the best feeding strategy.
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.
As the culls gain weight and condition, their dressing percentage increases. Generally, value increases as dress percentage increases. Markets show an 8 to 12 percent price increase moving a cull cow from canner classification to cutter or utility.
Producers who want to add value to cull cows should first make sure they retain healthy cows and cows that do not have structural problems. Cows that already have ample condition (condition score of 6) are not candidates to retain in the cull cow enterprise because there is not a lot of opportunity to increase value. Ideal cows to retain are healthy cows with a body condition score of 3 to 5. It's also best if cull cows can be managed separate from the rest of the herd as pregnant cows do not need to gain weight at the same rate as the cull cows.
Marketing Cull Cows – How & When? (PDF 234KB)
Managing and Marketing Cull Cows (PDF 70KB)
Dr. Rick Rasby, Professor of Animal Science
Animal Science, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, NE