Fall processing is an ideal time to consider culling problem cows. In early fall prices for beef cows are generally higher (although not in recent years) and calves are being weaned then. The yearly cost to maintain that cow is at least $400 plus on the prairies.
Poor reproduction is the biggest loss to the cow-calf operator, so timely pregnancy diagnosis by your veterinarian will save considerable dollars in feed. Your profit is derived by pounds of beef sold so open cows contribute nothing to that pool.
While palpating the cows, internal pelvic size can be assessed in heifers. Internal infection in the abdomen (adhesions), tumors, as well as infected kidneys can also be detected and shipped. Freemartins (heifers born twin to bulls) will be detected and these in 95 per cent of cases will never breed. Later bred cows can also be detected and marked.
If all calves are weaned together, these late-bred cows will wean smaller calves since the calves will be much younger. They however may fit well into another producers program and could be sold as bred cows. Since most herds’ average five to 10 per cent open or late cows this procedure (pregnancy diagnosis) is an invaluable and necessary part of any beef operation.
Pregnancy checking time is ideal to watch for early problems many of which can be treated. Early cancer eyes, and lumpy jaws abscesses are all very treatable if caught early enough and can often be treated by your veterinarian right on the spot. This may eliminate having to cull those cattle at a later date or avoid a condemnation at slaughter.
Many other conditions can be eliminated during that pass through the chute. Cows with vaginal prolapses, arthritis, bad feet (long toes, corkscrew claws for example) and poor udders (coke bottle teats or swing bags) should be marked out as well. Remember vaginal prolapses are generally hereditary and it is wise not to keep any female offspring off that cow. Uterine prolapses on the contrary are not hereditary and the cow can be kept as long as she has rebred. The likelihood of her reprolapsing the next year is no more likely than any other cow.
Cracks, long toes or other foot problems need either culling or attending to in order to enable them to be productive the following season. Again some foot problems such as corkscrew claws and corns may be hereditary so don’t retain their daughters in the herd.
Poor udders, with large teats or broken down suspensory apparatus, should be closely scrutinized. These cows are more prone to get mastitis, plus getting newborns to suckle on these large teats or low bags can be a formidable task in the spring — especially when producer’s time is at a premium.
Temperament is a definite consideration for culling. My attitude is always one of “there are too many quiet cows in the world to keep the wild, hard to handle, or fence crawlers.” Some cows, of course, are quite possessive right at calving, and if they endanger workers, culling should be a consideration.
A scale is a very valuable aid in selecting unproductive cows. Remember the age-old rule of cows weaning a calf of at least half their body weight. Large cows need to wean larger calves in order to be profitable. Weighing calves at weaning and knowing the cow’s mature weights makes this decision very easy. Unproductive cows may be poor milkers or have some underlying disease resulting in unthrifty calves. A mature cow with chronic diarrhea especially if loosing weight is a likely candidate for “JOHNE’S disease and is best to ship for slaughter immediately after your veterinarian makes the diagnosis.
Older cows will start to loose teeth at about 12 to 15 years of age making it difficult to graze efficiently. Mouthing of some cows allows you to estimate age and cull while salvage is still an option. All cows should have all their eight front incisor teeth.
Producers must record potential culls during the year otherwise memories get faded by fall. The cow that almost did your wife in at spring calving cannot be forgotten about by fall culling. Producers may have questionable potential culls where the final decision is made at pregnancy checking time. If the open or late rate is lower than expected this is an ideal time to cull for these borderline culls. This keeps herd sizes the same while eliminating problems.
It is far better to cull early and maintain good salvage value. An old method is to crop the end of the tail. This is easy to watch for and may twig your memory as to what the initial problem was. By doing these things the younger more productive cows are maintained in your herd. You cannot make these decisions without clear records. For that proper identification tags must be maintained in both cows and calves. Get in the habit now of using the national identification tags in all newborn calves and cull cows as they are shipped to market.
Roy Lewis is a practising large animal veterinarian at the Westlock Veterinary Center, north of Edmonton, AB. His main interests are bovine reproduction and herd health.