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Culling The Cattle Herd

To be a successful cattle producer, you have to cull the herd from time-to-time to maintain profitability and genetics.

Jane Parish is an extension beef specialist at Mississippi State University. She says one big reason to cull a cow is reproductive status.

"She's been a real good cow for you, had a lot of calves, but this year you're just having trouble getting her pregnant," says Parish. "She's using your resources and she's not paying you back, so at that time you may want to consider moving those animals out of the herd. And then you have some of those that just don't have the genetics, or for whatever reason maybe don't perform as well as other animals in the herd."

As long as the teeth, udders, feet, and legs are sound, older cows still producing calves are economically valuable. However, Parish says if your emphasis is genetic improvement in the herd, younger beef females are often genetically superior to older cows.

Despite the age, any animal that shows signs of lameness or other health issues should be culled as soon as they are noticed.

Parish says the decision of when to reduce the herd depends on the timing, and the reasons for doing so.

"People will cull them at natural times. If she has a calf on her side, maybe you want her to finish raising that calf, and when once the calf is weaned, then at that point she would be available for culling. Another example would be when there are drought conditions, and you just don't have the resources to do a good job with what you've got. You've either got to bring in feed and hay, or you've got to downsize your herd," she says. "So in those situations, you need to make sometimes drastic decisions."