2014-09-03   facebook twitter rss

Making Cattle Culling Decisions

Weaning time provides a great opportunity to select cows which are costing the business more than they earn for culling.

To make fully informed decisions, cow performance records, pregnancy diagnosis results and health data need to be collected together and reviewed.

Jennifer Mackenzie Photo

© jennifermackenzie.co.uk

Past cow performance indicates future performance
Reviewing cow performance is a key part of the decision-making process, as it is a good guide to future productivity. Key indicators to consider are:

  • Calving interval – is she producing a calf every year, ideally in the same month?

  • Calf performance – has her calf performed well?

  • Health – has she or her calf needed treatments, such as for lameness, mastitis or pneumonia?

Keeping barren cows is costly
When thinking about calving intervals, consider the year ahead and not just previous years. Pregnancy diagnosis is a useful tool, as this will indicate whether a cow will calve within the next target calving period, as well as whether she is in calf.

Even herds with more than one calving season, or which calve all year round, can benefit from this information, as a cow can easily slip unnoticed between calving seasons or just calve later each year. The costs of cows slipping may be hidden, but it is expensive to feed a cow which is not producing close to one calf a year.

Pregnancy diagnosing cows, particularly before winter housing, will identify empty cows and help avoid the costs associated with keeping them until calving time.

Healthy cows are productive cows
A cow with disease can spread it to others in the herd, with long-term consequences. Underlying infectious diseases are present in the majority of herds and can cause great financial loss when they are not controlled, based on advice from the farm vet.

One example would be Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD), which can be endemic in a herd and cause problems with calf health or performance, as well as fertility issues in cows.

The other key disease is Johne’s, which often leads to an increase in cull cows for a variety of reasons such as infertility, lameness or poor calf performance due to lack of milk, without Johne’s being diagnosed as the underlying reason. Johne’s is not easy to control, but when homebred replacements are kept it is crucial to check the herd status using annual blood tests and discuss control with the farm vet.

Investigate common causes of culling
It is beneficial to consider the reasons for culling which occur frequently and investigate them further for ways to reduce future problems. For example, a high number of empty first calvers might be traced to difficult calvings resulting from the use of a particular sire or inadequate nutrition post-calving.

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