The hot, dry summer is expected to transform into a long, lean winter for many of the state’s cattle producers.

University of Tennessee Extension beef specialists Jim Neel and Justin Rhinehart say the dried up summer pastures have not produced enough hay for farmers to store for use as livestock feed for the coming winter months. “A 1,000 pound beef cow will need about 25 to 30 pounds of average or better quality grass hay per day during the wintering period. Depending on the length (days) of the winter feeding period, this could amount to 1.5 to 2.0 tons of hay, per head,” Neel said.

That’s a lot of hay – hay that will likely be scarce this year.

Neel says may producers are already taking measures to conserve supplies by culling herds. In most herds, there are “hay-burners” that should be culled under normal feeding conditions. “Under restricted feed conditions, such as drought, culling low producing cows that would take feed from the productive ones would be a profitable practice,” he said. “Culling cows would reduce the numbers and total amount of hay needed to get through the winter feeding period. It could also result in a little extra feed for the remaining cows and receipts from marketing of the culls could be used to purchase feed for the remaining herd,” he said.

Rhinehart, who has conducted a number of producer meetings across the state this summer, recommends systematic culling to stretch a limited winter feed supply. Here are some suggestions from both Rhinehart and Neel to help producers faced with culling decisions:

1. Cull open cows first. Open beef cows – those that are not pregnant – are a liability and are likely to literally consume potential profit. Cull bulls that do not pass a breeding soundness exam before the breeding season.

2. Cull older cows. As cows pass 10 years of age, their productivity and market value
begin to drop. Get them on the market while they can still fetch a respectable market price.

3. Cull cows with physical problems. Cows with bad udders, poor teeth or other physical problems can become future problems for production, condition and value.

4. Consider culling cows that calve “out of season.” An argument for keeping these cows might be made during times of plentiful feed supply, but not in times of feed shortage. Also, those cows that calve late may miss getting bred during the next breeding season. For producers working to shorten the breeding season, culling late-calving cows would help. Note that pregnant cows in this categoryp would be marketed differently than open, defective or old cows. These pregant cows may be out of line with your calving season, but they might work for someone else.

5. Consider culling cows that produce calves with very low weaning weights. Calves with extremely light weaning weights should be culled soon. Make a note of cows producing calves with less than average weaning weights (but not extremely low). Cows that repeatedly wean calves less than the herd average should be considered for culling when the need/opportunity arises to cull extra cows.

6. Consider culling cows that lost their calves. These cows will not produce a return and will continue to eat feed and mount expenses.

7. Cull cows that do not maintain their body condition score when fed properly. Even if they do not end up with a high culling priority due to one of the criteria discussed above, they should be considered
for culling during a drought year because there is a higher chance that they will not breed back, or that they have underlying health issues that would come out during times of stress.

8. A deep culling might be a good time to consider selling any cows that are extreme in frame size or muscling. These cows may be very small or very large and produce calves that are not uniform with the rest of your calf crop. Anything you can do
to increase the uniformity of your herd will help you with future marketing plans.

"These criteria might not fit each farm perfectly, but starting with these general concepts and tailoring them to your specific objectives should help identify cows that need to be marketed. Selling culls at the right time will improve profits for that year and build
profitability for future calf crops, Rhinehart said.

For more information about cattle management, contact your local county UT Extension agent or visit the online UT Extension publications website:

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.


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