Because of the summer’s drought conditions, many cattle producers are making the decision to cull their herds because of the high costs expected for winter feed. A University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture economist Dr. Andrew Griffith says producers who choose to cull their herds might benefit by careful timing.

“Selling immediately is an option and may be the only option due to resource constraints,” said the economist at the recent Milan No-Till Crop Production Field Day, “but it is not always the most profitable option.”

Griffith says producers should ask themselves if it is more profitable to sell cows when the culling decision is made or if they should be marketed at a later date?

Cull cow prices, he said, are like most agricultural commodity prices. They fluctuate. Tennessee cull cow prices tend to be highest from April through July, while they are traditionally lowest from October to January. Price trends might be different this year because of the drought conditions.

Griffith also recommends producers evaluate how the animal will be graded when marketed and whether any improvement can be made prior to marketing. Factors that determine the value of the cow include its potential for being condemned due to lameness, visible and carcass defects, and withdrawal periods; trimmings and muscle cuts; carcass/live weight; and dressing percent (the ratio of meat to live weight).

Cows are graded into four categories: canner, cutter, utility (breaking and boning utility) or commercial. Boning utility is the “optimal” weight for a producer and has a higher value than cutter/canner graded animals because its higher condition level allows higher valued cuts of beef such as the loin, top rounds, and strips to be pulled from the carcass. Breaking utility animals have a sufficient quantity of marbling and produce cuts such as the rib and the loin, which increases the value of the carcass.

The economist cautions that the additional revenue gained by feeding animals for a period of time instead of selling immediately must exceed the expected costs. It can take 50 to 90 days for an animal to be more profitable, he said. So producers also need to evaluate the health of the cows to be sure they are healthy enough to make grade improvements in a timely manner.

Griffith told the producers attending the field day that the take-home message is this, “You should market cows like you would market calves.”

He also urged producers to consider adding value by marketing in truckload lots and marketing source-verified cows or taking bids and marketing direct.

For more information on cattle management, contact your local county UT Extension office or visit the UT Extension publications catalog online at

The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch and its system of 10 research and education centers and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.


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