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Maximising The Power Of Culling As A Management Tool

6 May 2020

Culling cattle out the system is a powerful tool, not only to improve herd performance but also reduce the risk of any animal welfare breakdowns in your herd. There are many reasons for culling cattle, these may vary from farm to farm.  However, the time to make culling decisions for breeding animals is restricted.  Culling cattle that are pregnant presents a major moral challenge and it is no longer acceptable to send cows that are in calf, to slaughter, particularly those that are heavy in calf.  Given the level of scrutiny and bad press the beef industry has been met with in recent years, it is very important that all producers obey the rules and don’t send heavy in calf cattle to slaughter. 

With most herds in the country operating Spring calving systems, the window for making informed culling decisions is upon us. Don’t wait until after the bull comes in from the cows and hope that one particular cow is not in calf, invariably she will be. While the Spring isn’t the natural time to think about reducing stock numbers, getting any poor performers out the system will be a real benefit, to profitability, work loan and crucially animal welfare 

A few points to consider before you turn the bull out.   

  1. All mature cows going to the bull should have a calf at foot, any cow without a calf is unproductive and should be culled out the system.  Do not make excuses, a beef cows sole purpose on your farm is to rear a calf.  In a field of 30 cows and 29 calves, the worst cow in the field is the one without the calf at foot, she costs the same to run as her peers but brings in no income, her cull value is significant and should be realised 
  2. With less labour on farms, cows that have caused problems at calving time should be looked at with a critical eye.  Assisted calvings are a challenge to animal and human welfare and while most herds will require some level of intervention at calving time, the direction of travel in all herd should be to have to intervene less often.  Any cow that has had a particularly difficult calving or a caesarean is a candidate for culling.  Once the calf is born, there are always those calves that require assistance to suckle.  Those cows that have large pendulous udders create a lot of work at calving time, assisting calves to suckle is a significant drain on resources, there is also evidence that the delay in getting colcostrum on board leads to many of these calves failing to absorb all the antibodies they need from their mother’s colostrum.  This will put the calf under disease pressure and increase the overall disease challenge in your calf crop 
  3. A cow that is not sound on it’s feet and legs and requires regular attention to correct issues of lameness or overgrown toes, should be culled out the system. 
  4. The cow’s temperament should be high on everyone’s list of reasons for culling, as an industry, we have a poor health and safety record, with newly calved cows presenting a significant threat to farmers.  Temperament is a heritable trait meaning that there is a high chance that the offspring of an angry cow will also turn out hard to handle.  Research shows, although these cows may appear to be better mothers, they actually wean lighter calves than a normal cow.  No calf is worth risking a human life for, cull angry cows out the system. 
  5. The more cows you have that calve early in the calving period, the more productive your herd will be over the year.  With this in mind, consider what you do with cows that calf late in the period.  There are options like CIDRs and PRIDs to get these cows cycling earlier but before you do this discuss with your vet or contact the Farm Advisory Service. It is likely to be a better option to retain a few extra heifers for breeding and cull any empty cows at scanning. 
  6. From an economic and environmental angle, the suckler industry must get more efficient, cull out those cows who consistently wean lighter calves.  They cost the same to keep and contribute much less than their peers.  

At this point in the year, Spring calving cows, pre bulling can be culled for any number of reasons, by the time we reach the autumn, the only reason for culling, without killing pregnant animals, is infertility.  Take advantage of the pre bulling window and use a culling program to improve your herd performance.  

 Robert Ramsay,

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