An important aspect of cattle production that is often given a low priority is the care and marketing of our cull cows.
This is one area in cattle production where producers need to be particularly aware of animal welfare issues, including decisions to cull, ship or cull cows where necessary.
Each of us should have a plan for getting rid of slaughtered cows. If we keep them for any length of time, there may be ways to get more growth and productivity out of them. However, we also need to be aware that some cows are at an age or have conditions where the best management decision is to ship them early.
Carrying capacity decisions sometimes have to be made, and this is especially true of lean, multi-lactation dairy cows for the beef market. In some parts of the country, dairy animals are turned into meat animals, as in dairy bull calves and dairy cows, and enter the beef market. A cooperative crossover between dairy and beef producers would go a long way to strengthen both industries.
It is important to start with a plan for when and why cows will be slaughtered. I think a lot of producers should be looking at the age, fertility and longevity of the cows. This means that up to a certain age a cow may need to be slaughtered regardless of whether it is pregnant or not.
Some producers may have a select group of cows that are kept because they reproduce well, but when they calve, the baby cow is meant to be adopted, so she becomes a surrogate at the last calving and is culled right after.
We all have a rough idea of the number of reproductive dogs we will get each year based on the previous year’s open rate. The number of dogs due to open cows will vary greatly, but is usually in the 5-10 percent range.
Gross percentages should be kept in mind when keeping replacement heifers. Most producers keep 50 percent of the heifers, which account for 25 percent of all calves born. In addition to herd mortality loss, when considering all causes of culling, it is quite common for about 20 percent of cows to be lost each year.
Cutting due to lameness
Trimming for lameness/arthritis can be reduced if more attention is paid to hoof care trimming when necessary. Lame animals must be properly handled during slaughter. The producer must decide whether to keep the animals on feed and treat the disease until they are shipped, or to ship them for humanitarian and compensation reasons. Some conditions will continue to worsen, so immediate termination is the way to go. On-farm butchering may be an option.
There are many options, but until you are sure, hold off on the veterinary medication to avoid any residual problems.
Lameness is the second most common cause of amputation after reproductive problems. Manufacturers have realized that many conditions can be successfully treated with proper foot care and examination. There are many good trimmers and we should make better use of them. They can add longevity to the herd and spot problems and many lamenesses that can be treated if caught early.
With proper treatment of foot rot, hoof cracks, ulcers and single abscesses, many animals can remain in the herd. Some farms have hoof-trimming tables, but many lame cows are sent away because good clipping examination and proper treatment are not initiated. If animals will not be treated, ship as soon as possible before weight loss and other health problems develop.
When deciding to ship, it’s important to check the market. Older cows that are generally in good condition can simply be shipped. But in other cases, the producer may find that he can make more money by feeding young animals.
Larger producers will often work with someone else who sells culled cows. Many animals that have been fed for a while will benefit from the implant program. Some young cows may be recipients for the embryo transplant program, but health needs to be checked for things like Johne’s disease and their reproductive vaccination status must be up to date.
If the cows are open simply because it’s a very tight window for breeding and they’re young, they may be adapted to another use, but they’re certainly eating well.
If the producer is not sure of the animal’s age, check its teeth. Cows get all their permanent incisors up to five. If there are no permanent teeth, the animal is more than 10 years old. A fairly accurate estimate of age can be obtained by observing tooth wear and root exposure. There are charts readily available for viewing.
Age verification is extremely important on purchased cows, as well as on cows that have lost ear tags.
Bulk cows can be an important source of additional income and both animal welfare and economic considerations are worth considering – they all go hand in hand.