Culling or Euthanizing: When It's Time, It's Time

Euthanizing or culling a cow is always a hard decision to make and it is even harder to pull the trigger. As producers, we pour everything we have into our herd and to watch a cow become sick takes a toll, and especially if you have grown attached to certain cows. Having a euthanasia plan or a cull plan should be a part of every herd to avoid a rash decision or the prolonged suffering of an animal.

Sick pens have become an industry standard now and are a very useful tool to help with the welfare of sick animals. Being able to recognize a cow that is sick or extremely lame and moving her to a smaller pen where she can be treated and observed is valuable in that cow's welfare. By having this separation, we can better assess the situation and are able to treat and monitor that particular cow. What happens after putting her in the sick pen? Do we hesitate and delay making a decision about the future of this cow? Have you done everything that can be done to help her? What is your next step? Many challenging questions begin to cross your mind when you are trying to reach a verdict. If you’re like me and sometimes unsure about things, using a decision tree may be beneficial. A decision tree is a tool that uses a tree-like graph of scenarios or questions to direct you toward a final decision. Many times producers may wait too long, prolonging an animal’s suffering and the cow then dies on her own. That is something that we do not want to happen. When making a decision tree it is good to consult with your veterinarian on endpoint criteria, taking into consideration the normal behaviors of cows in their environment for all stages of production. Once the endpoints are clear then comes in the method of euthanasia, which all depends on the cow herself and the on-farm protocols that are in place. An example decision tree will help you decide if the animal herself needs to be euthanized after being treated, continue treatment, or immediate euthanasia.

The word, euthanasia is from Greek origin and means good death. No one enjoys making the decision but when its time, its time. Methods of euthanasia should produce a rapid death with no pain and distress. There are three primary methods of euthanasia and they include the barbiturate overdose, gunshot, and the penetrating captive bolt method. These three methods, when properly applied, can cause rapid loss of consciousness and death with no distress to the animal. One thing to note about the barbiturate overdose is that it is well received by the public unlike the bolt gun or gunshot. Another thing to note is that the gun shot or the penetrating captive bolt is a high risk to human safety, unlike the barbiturate overdose which is a low human risk. Ensuring that your employees have proper training and follow the proper safety protocols will help minimize the human safety risk. Maybe next time your veterinarian comes out to the farm, you can run the idea about timely euthanasia and develop a plan so that the next time a cow gets sick or goes down you have a solid plan on what to do next.