What Do Your Cull Cows’ Records Show?

Jason Hartschuh, ANR Program Coordinator Crawford County, The Ohio State University Extension

Can you look over your cull cow records from 2012 and tell when and why cows are leaving your farm? If accurate records were kept, it can help you make management decisions that can increase farm profitability.

One thing to look at is when cows are being culled. Usually one-third of those culled leave in the first 100 days and another third after 300 days in milk. Cull cow records also are used as a reflection of animal welfare in the dairy industry.

Every animal that leaves the farm should be entered into the farm record keeping system with the reason she left. Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) and other dairy records programs contain a list of codes specifying reasons why each cow left and a place to enter additional information. The first entry is simply sold or died; the sold number should match up with the number of cows that have sales receipts for the farm. One reason why these numbers do not always matchup is that some cows sold on the rail (carcass value sales) get condemned at the slaughter house for various reasons.  When you get the notice that an animal was condemned, it is a good idea to enter that information into your herd records for why that cow left, noting the reason for condemnation, and that you received nothing for her when she left. If the cow was sold for beef, the true reason is very important to management decisions and welfare considerations. One option is culling for low milk production; however, often there is something else that leads to low production. There are a few cows that are sold because they do not have high enough production, but most cows have the production potential until a limiting factor prevents acceptable milk production levels.  In several record programs, you can enter multiple codes for reasons left. If low production is entered, do you need another code to tell why she really left? A few other codes that are often used are feet and legs, reproductive, udder, and disease. These things all lead to low production which is usually the trigger for selling an animal once they reach a threshold production that makes it more profitable to cull the existing cow and replace her with another one. If an animal is culled for “disease”, be sure to include the nature of the disease. Disease can be a very broad category; knowing why cows really leave the dairy farm is crucial. If a large number of cows are sold for pneumonia, it may be a sign that facilities need ventilation improvements. If Johne’s Disease is a problem, tracking sales will help to determine the severity of the problem and assist with management decisions, such as developing best management practices to prevent transmission and testing of relatives or the whole herd if eradication is a goal. Udder also can be an area that requires more explanation. This often encompasses reasons such as mastitis, a blind quarter, an injured teat, poor udder attachment, or even cows difficult to milk. Another large category is reproductive culls. Late lactation sales for failure to conceive may have only been entered as low production, because they won’t breed back and they drop off in milk production. The real problem may be in breeding and reproduction more than in failure to milk enough.  One final cull category for some programs is “other”. This category definitely needs a comment to reflect the real reason for the cull and may include such things as aggressive cows.

If an animal was sold, the second piece of information to capture should be if they were sold for dairy or beef. Some dairy farms may have a relatively high cull rate, but they are actually doing a very good job with herd replacements and herd health. These farms raise more replacements than they need, leading to high cull rates, but these culls are sold to other dairy producers.

As animal welfare audits become more common, some of them are incorporating culling records. Making correct entries of whether cows were sold for dairy or beef and why is very important. Enter all the reasons why an animal left under the number codes and add in a description to help you track problems.