AUBURN, Ala.—Cattle producers have practiced record keeping for years to identify cow-calf pairs and top-producing cows. Additionally, comprehensive cattle records can be an important tool producers use to cull the herd.
Often when working to reduce the cattle herd, producers need to cull more than the 10 to 15 percent identified during the physical cattle check. When producers need to expand culling beyond 10 to 15 percent, cattle records are important.
Record-Keeping Programs Help Producers Cull
Alabama Cooperative Extension System animal scientist Michelle Elmore said record keeping is a vital component for an advanced level management for beef producers. Record keeping should be practical in order to maintain and increase efficiency and profitability.
“Individual animal records provide data to best accomplish the following: cull cows on performance, select the best bulls for your herd and make the best replacement heifer selections,” Elmore said. “More information helps in making more informed and effective decisions.
“Record keeping can correct or enhance your herd’s genetics and bottom line.”
Production records allow producers to make informed culling decisions. Former Black Belt Research and Extension Center director Jimmy Holliman said detailed records give farmers a true picture of what the herd is actually producing.
“The producer can identify those cattle that are inferior in the herd as well as those that are more efficient and more desirable,” Holliman said. “Health records are also important in maintaining the health and well- being of the herd.
“These cattle records, both production and health, are also an asset in marketing the cattle.”
Elmore, who is also the statewide coordinator for the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association (BCIA), said production records provide precise information to help producers make more informed decisions. She said culling under-performing cows— especially during times of drought—preserves the best genetics of the herd to move forward.
Analyzing Cattle Records to Make Informed Decisions
“In analyzing production records to assess which cows are performing at a high level and which are not, consider both the average calving interval of each cow and the average weaning weight of calves produced for each cow,” Elmore said.
Use the recorded date of each calving to calculate an average calving interval for each cow in the herd. If cows consistently calve late under normal rainfall conditions, these cows may not perform well under drought conditions. Cows with high average calving intervals should be culled, as they are not performing efficiently.
Holliman, who owns and operates Circle H Cattle Farm in Marion Junction, Alabama, participates in the Total Herd Enrollment program by the American Simmental Association.
“The Total Herd Enrollment Program requires all data on calves and their dams to be submitted each year,” he said. “I look at the production information generated on each animal but specifically at the EPD’s (expected progeny differences) produced for individuals in the herd. Phenotype and structure are also important.”
After culling based on calving intervals, Elmore said producers should analyze the average weaning weight of all calves produced by each cow.
“Using your production records, you can calculate or review your herd’s average weaning weight,” she said. “Identify which of your cows are producing an average calf weaning weight that is below this herd average. Cull cows that are not performing to the level of the herd’s average weaning weight. These cows are producing less calf weight and therefore less income.”
Culling Cattle Based on Records
Cows not performing productively and efficiently are utilizing pasture, water and land resources that more efficient cows with higher performance levels need. Cull cattle in this category.
Elmore said this should always be a management goal. Drought conditions make it even more critical for producers dealing with limited resources.
Holliman said without records, culling would be just a visual appraisal. Visual appraisals are needed but not very accurate in determining the true genetic potential of the animal.
“The production records and EPD’s let me evaluate whether the animal is below average in traits important to my program,” he said. “Health and reproduction records are important in deciding to cull due to health problems or maintaining an acceptable calving interval. The ‘pretty cow’ is not often the most productive or efficient cow in the herd.”
Other Methods Used to Cull
Producers use seven quality checks to make routine culling decisions. They include: checking for pregnancy, soundness of eyes, mouth, feet, legs, udder, disposition and body condition scores
“Make these quality checks along with analyzing production records,” Elmore said. “If no records are available, quality checks are the single best tool to remove unsound cows from your herd.”
For more detailed information on culling using the seven physical quality checks, read this article on www.alabamadrought.com. For further assistance on culling decisions, contact your county Extension office. They can connect you with the Alabama Extension Animal Science team.