Should She Stay Or Go?

Making culling decisions can often be difficult for many reasons. In the process, estimating cow value around the time of culling is oversimplified.
Making culling decisions can often be difficult for many reasons. In the process, estimating cow value around the time of culling is oversimplified.
(Taylor Leach)

Making culling decisions can often be difficult for many reasons. Trying to determine the feasibility of culling decisions can be even more difficult. Oftentimes, estimating cow value around the time of culling is oversimplified.

Simplified culling costs
Culling costs are often simplified to the slaughter value of the cow minus the rearing or purchase cost of the replacement. However, determining the difference in carcass value from the replacement does not result in the total economic impact of a cow leaving the herd. Other estimates, such as retention pay-off or breakeven analysis, give a better assessment of the economic effect of culling decisions.

Retention Pay-Off
Retention pay-off considers (RPO) the potential income of the cow in question compared to the potential income of the animal’s replacement within a specific timeframe. Calculating a RPO would  provide an optimal time of culling a cow from the herd. However, these calculations are very complex and can be difficult estimate.

Longevity and Breakeven Costs
A long-standing question in culling decisions is whether we should be culling older cows to make room for new genetics. Newer research from the University of Florida has examined the economics of longevity in dairy herds. The study's results suggest the increased milk yield of cows in the 3rd and 4th lactations outweighs the genetic opportunity costs. Once the cow’s maintenance (vet and treatment) costs and genetic opportunity costs increase, the optimal time to cull the cow was reached.

Research from the University of Minnesota suggests that a breakeven point should be considered when determining the most feasible time to cull cows. Breakeven costs should be examined in two ways. Production breakeven analysis compares the milk production costs to the milk output. A cumulative breakeven analysis compares the milk output to the production and the cost of raising the animal.

The Minnesota research found that profitable farms keep their cows past the cumulative breakeven point. Meaning cows tend to stay on the farm until they have at least paid off the cost of raising them. Approximately 50% of the cows in the study were culled before their rearing costs were paid for, even when including the slaughter value.

Simplifying culling costs can give a false sense of the financial impact of cows leaving the farm. Retention pay-off can help determine the optimal time to cull a cow from the herd. However, RPO is a very in-depth analysis. Calculating the breakeven costs of cows on the farm may be a more reasonable estimate. Culling is not always an economic decision. The welfare of the animal should be the first consideration.

A Disease You Don't Think About is Taking a Health Toll on Dairy Calves

6 Common Teat Surgeries 

Here’s Why Cows Produce Less Colostrum During the Fall and Winter


Latest News

Spring has Sprung and Show Season is Just Around the Corner. Are You Ready?

For your showing clients, now is a good time to discuss a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. Many livestock shows will require a CVI -- even if the animal doesn’t have to cross state lines to get to the show.

Mastitis in Beef Cows: What You Need to Know

Although mastitis, an infection of the udder, is often considered a dairy cow problem, the disease may also impact beef producers. Here's what you need to know and look for and how to help protect your herd.

We Need More Answers, Veterinarian Says About Biosecurity Research

As a veterinarian, Jeremy Pittman, senior director of U.S. veterinary services for Smithfield Foods, says he is constantly tasked with, asked about and challenged on biosecurity processes or protocols. 

Mineral and Vitamin Considerations When Drylotting Cows

Managing cows in a drylot can be a way to maintain the herd when forage production is reduced. However, it's important to make sure cows are getting the vitamins and minerals they need.

Animal Activist and Former Baywatch Star Found Not Guilty in ‘Open Rescue’

Former “Baywatch” star Alexandra Paul and activist Alicia Santurio were found not guilty of misdemeanor theft after “rescuing” two chickens in 2021. Although they faced jail time, Paul says it was worth the risk.

7 Tips for More Effective Vaccination Programs in Calves

Ask 10 dairy producers what they believe is an effective vaccination program for calves, and you’ll likely get 10 unique answers. That’s OK, because there is no effective one-size-fits-all strategy.