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Feeding Cull Cows

April 21, 2015

With the tight supply and high costs of feeder cattle, some cattle feeders are looking for other options to keep cattle in the pens.  Feeding cull cows can be an option, but there are several things that the feeder must keep in mind.

There are seasonal trends that favor feeding cull cows – because of the large number of cows culled in the fall cow prices are at 90% of the yearly average, while the market recovers to >100% by February.  Feeding the cows a higher energy ration for 70-90 days also results in the cows qualifying for white fat cow price which is an added premium.

Prior to buying cull cows, be sure to have a good market in mind for selling the finished cows – either a sale barn with a regular cull cow market or a cow plant that will buy full truckloads.

Buy cull cows that are structurally sound and healthy with a Body Condition Score of 3-5 but not poorly muscled.  Preg check the cows on arrival – you can either abort pregnant cows or you can elect to feed them a gestation diet that will put them back into good body condition and you can sell them as P3 cows.

Upon arrival:

  • Vaccinate the cows with a 5 way respiratory vaccine and a 7 way clostridial vaccine.
  • Implant with an aggressive combination implant that is approved for heifers.
  • De-worm and de-lice the cows with the proper dose for their body weight.
  • Start the cattle on a 44-48 NEg diet with sufficient roughage since the cows have probably just come off a roughage only diet,

Feeding the cows:

  • Work the cows up to a 58-62 NEg finishing diet over a 30 day time period.
  • Feed a normal finishing level of ionophore
  • Feed MGA at a .5 mg/hd/day level
  • Give cows 20-24 inches of bunk space per head with a corresponding increase in pen space
  • Because of high feed intakes a 10-11% Crude Protein level should be sufficient.
  • Feed cows for 70-90 days; after 90 days the cows will continue to have high intakes but will have poor gains and feed conversions

In a demonstration done by ISU Extension, cull cows using these protocols had the following average results at two locations:

Average Daily Gains 3.84
DM Feed/Gain 10.36
Days on Feed 83
Dressing % 54.5%
White Fat qualifiers 84.5%

Experienced cull cow feeders can see even better performance numbers with more aggressive ration management.

A couple of additional considerations when feeding cull cows:

  • If you are custom feeding cull cows, realize that the added bunk space and pen space, the additional feed to deliver and the additional manure to haul away will raise your yardage costs.
  • Realize that on a cost of gain basis feeding cows will seldom work on a projection.  The profit opportunity from feeding cows comes from the combination of buying low and selling more pounds into a higher market, and upgrading the cows to a white fat quality.

Depend on QLF to help you get the most out of your cattle feeding operation.  For additional support specific to your operation, please contact your closest QLF representative or consultant.

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