Maximize cull cow value when production wanes

By Glenda Flora

When it comes to maximizing asset value, dairy producers share some principles with other businesses.
For example, a dairy producer can empathize with someone with a pizza business who faces the challenge of maintaining delivery vehicles. Despite best efforts, including changing oil and fixing dents, the vehicles eventually begin to wear out –- some sooner than others. It becomes a balancing act, footing expensive repair bills and taking into consideration each vehicle’s trade-in value.
Dairy producers get better every year at keeping animals healthy and productive, while increasing their efficiency and productivity. But maximizing the cow as an asset includes making sure that when its milk production potential wanes, the cull value is as great as it can be.
Unfortunately, some producers don’t recognize this value, and many certainly don’t maximize it. Every cow will someday become a cull cow. And a few otherwise good producers are neglecting some fairly simple steps to assure a cull cow’s highest sale value.
In the past, producers have accepted the premise that they get little value out of a cull animal. Some view any steps to maximize the cull’s value as wasted, since those steps probably aren’t going to pay off at the sale barn.
But there’s no reason a dairy producer should accept less for their culls than what they are worth. It’s becoming increasingly evident extra value can be obtained for very little additional effort.
The meat from cull cows is no longer just used for ground beef. About 44% of the muscle from cull dairy animals is used as whole muscle cuts. Protecting the integrity of those cuts is more important.
Injection site blemishes in whole muscle cuts lower the value of cull cow carcasses up to $70 each, according to the 1999 National Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit. The audit, which was paid for through thee $1/head Beef Checkoff Program, found 4.2% of all dairy cows showed injection site knots in the round. Making injections subcutaneously in proper locations, away from the round and sirloin, costs no more to do, yet can improve the animal’s value.

Keep them moving
Earlier culling also pays dividends. Cull cows need to be in good condition when they get to the slaughter plant –- especially since downer cows are not accepted for human beef production. Not waiting until the last minute can be the difference between an animal that’s an asset and or one that’s an extra cost.
Proper use of antibiotics prior to harvesting is also important. Antibiotic testing for meat is sometimes more sensitive than for milk, because a cow’s kidneys will hold antibiotics longer. Treatment decisions for sick cows should be made with care – and with plenty of withdrawal time.
One approach is to feed cull cows for a period of time before selling them. The time allows antibiotics that may be still be in the system to be eliminated, while putting additional weight on the animals. Not all producers have the space, labor or facilities to feed cull cows, but in small tests where inexpensive feeds have been used, it has proven profitable.
Producers will find management decisions for cull animals entering their declining years do pay. It isn’t possible to put a precise value on some of the efforts, but no one can deny preventing lameness and utilizing good injection techniques won’t pay off for producers and the dairy industry.
We all want to do the right thing. Dairy producers do it in their milk quality assurance programs. We must look to our beef quality assurance efforts, too. It’s in our own best interests.
■ Glenda Flora, along with her husband Sam and seven children, owns and operates The Bar F Cattle Co,. Quinter, Kan. The enterprise includes a 100-cowd dairy, a dairy calf growing operation and 200 head of commercial beef cows. She is a member of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, currently serving as chair of the advertising. She is also a member of the Kansas Cattle Women, American National CattleWomen, American Angus Association, American Red Angus Association and Kansas Farm Bureau.