Cattle producers faced with limited forage supplies because of drought or wildfire should be evaluating whether or not it is time to cull poorer producing cows.

“Prices for cows and culled replacement heifers are strong, so a producer can capture their value now and allow for some capital investment to be used when prices may be lower and forage supplies are more plentiful,” said Marty New, Comanche County Extension director and agricultural educator.

Oklahoma State University Beef Extension suggests the following order of culling from fall-calving herds:

● Non-pregnant older cows;
● Non-pregnant replacement heifers;
● Older cows with unsound mouth, eyes, feet or legs;
● Non-Pregnant cows of any age;
● Thin cows with a body condition score of 4 or worse and more than 7 years old; and
● Very late bred young cows.

“The first two on the list are automatic culls in any forage year,” New said. “Old open cows are not worth keeping through a low-forage expensive feeding period.”

Replacement heifers that were properly developed and mated to a fertile bull or in a well-organized artificial insemination program should be pregnant.

“If they aren’t bred, there is a likelihood that they’re reproductively unsound and should be removed from the herd while still young enough to go to the feedlot and grade choice with an A maturity carcass,” New said.

Glenn Selk, OSU animal science professor emeritus and cow-calf specialist, cautions that more difficult decisions come when a cattle producer is short enough in forage and feed supplies that he or she feels the need to cull cows that have been palpated and found to be pregnant.

“This typically is necessary only when grass and feed supplies are very limited,” he said. “Thin older cows are going to require additional feed resources to have a high probability of being productive the following year, and late-bred females 2 years of age are least likely to have long-term productivity in the herd.”

Selk and New said current high cattle prices are no guarantee of profitability, but high prices are allowing producers more opportunities to capture value, even when faced with decisions related to drought and wildfire.