NDSU Extension - Ramsey County


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August 23 Agriculture Column


Well the weather turned very hot over the weekend but did not make for the best of harvest conditions as the humidity stayed very high.  The grain usually dried over the day but it took a while before the day got started.  Small grain harvest is progressing along very nicely and yields are 15-20 bushels less than last year (on average), but still a nice crop.  There are areas that received ½ -3/4 inch of rain last week and some areas that could actually use a shot of rain on the beans and corn.  I need to be very careful about asking for rain as it usually comes in large amounts.  GDD’S currently stand at 1773 which is 142 units ahead of normal.  We are inching ever so close to mature corn and the corn crop in general looks decent.

As we approach late summer, early fall, it is a good time for cow-calf producers to start thinking about their culling decisions. Should you wean calves early and cull early? Should you cull and sell in Oct/Nov? Should you feed the cull cow from November into February or March? Three factors should be considered when making the culling decision: (1) seasonality of cull cow prices, (2) price differences between slaughter grades and number of cows in each grade (their body condition score), and (3) cost of feeding cull cows.

Cull cow prices generally follow a consistent seasonal pattern. Prices normally are the lowest October through January and are the highest from April through August. If overall cattle prices are rising/declining sharply in a year, then this price pattern may not be as apparent. However, from 1980-2009 there was only one year when the price for cull cows was higher in November than it was in August. Prices for cull cows are based on their USDA carcass grade or their expected carcass grade. Price differences between these grades impact the price of cull cows. These price differentials vary from year to year and also from month to month within a year. The differential is wider in higher priced years and in the fourth quarter of the year. Average price differentials between market classes at Torrington, WY from 2005 - 2009 were Boner cows were 7.5% higher than Lean cows and Breaker cows were 3.5% higher than Boner cows. The Commercial grade or White Fat market class is frequently not reported. When it is, the price is typically 10% higher than the Breaker prices at the same auction.

Depending upon the weight and frame of a cow, it requires about 60-80 lbs. of weight gain to increase one BCS. A cow with a BCS of 3 in the Lean Market Class would require about 140 lbs. of gain to get to a BCS of 5 and into the Boner Market Class. A cow with a BCS of 4 in the Lean Market Class would only require about 70 lbs. of gain to get to a BCS of 5 and into the Boner Market Class.

At different times of the year a cow may be gaining weight or losing weight based on the quantity and quality of the forage they are consuming. Considering the fact that many cows may be losing weight and BCS during the fall, they may be sliding from the Boner to the Lean market class. Furthermore, the seasonal price pattern is that prices are typically declining through the fall. Therefore, where possible culling earlier in the fall rather than later will likely result in a higher market price and more weight being sold.

If a producer culls a cow in the fall and wants to feed her to take advantage of seasonal price increases, what is the optimal rate of gain and how long should the cow be fed? The answer to these questions will depend upon the initial cow weight and BCS, the availability and cost of various feed sources and the current price of cull cows.

Let’s quickly look at three different rations: an alfalfa/grass hay ration with an average daily gain (ADG) of 1.25 lbs., an alfalfa hay-corn silage ration with an ADG of 2 lbs, and an alfalfa hay-corn grain ration with an ADG of 3 lbs. I will assume that the cows weigh 1050 lbs., have a BCS of 4, and the market price for Lean cows is $40/cwt. in November. Alfalfa is $90/ton, grass is $76.50/ton, corn silage is $33.75/ton, and corn grain is $3.75/bushel. The cows are fed for 90 days and sold in February. A cost of $0.30 per day is charged for yardage and interest on the value of the cull cow is also charged. The net return to feeding cows with these assumptions would be $27.49, $67.89, and $65.93 per head for the hay, silage, and corn grain rations respectively.

I encourage you to look at your own resources and evaluate carefully what options you have with your cull cows. Compared to the traditional culling and marketing in November, it is often the case that returns will be greater if the cows are culled in late summer/early fall or if they are fed for some time after culling.


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