Monday, February 21, 2011

To keep, or cull: that is the question

This post was written by Adam

The winter months on our farm are filled with many things. Doing cattle chores, having baby calves, caring for those calves, rolling out hay for them to lie down on; I could go on and on. One thing that is rewarding this time of year is selling our calves from last year. The calves were weaned off their mothers in November and have been getting fed at our house since then. They get corn silage, ground corn, protein, mineral, and all the hay they want. Selling these calves is a big deal; it’s one of the few paychecks we get every year.

There are several good places in our area to market these calves, but knowing which place and at what time to sell the calves is not an easy decision to make. Cattle prices this winter have been at record highs. My dad and I have compared many different sale barn prices and still haven’t decided when or where we are going to sell them. This is just one example of how farming and ranching is a risky business. If you wait too long to sell you could lose a lot of money; sell too early and you could leave a lot of money on the table. This can be a stressful time, but it is one of the many stresses we as farmers deal with.

One thing that is exciting and fun for me during this time of year is choosing heifers from our calf crop that we will retain and breed to make into cows. There are several factors that play into choosing such a heifer. First, in my opinion, you need to look at the calf and see how she is built. Melissa always tells me that structure defines function and this is a fact that can solidify my decision to keep a heifer. The first and most important thing I look at is if the heifer is structurally sound. Structural soundness is essential if the heifer is going to have a long reproductive life. To determine if the heifer is structurally sound I look at her legs. A heifer needs to have strong straight legs. The legs should be squarely placed on the corners of the body with the weight evenly distributed. The heifer should also be able to move without any evidence of unsound feet or legs. If the heifer passes this test the next set of questions I ask myself are, "Is she deep bodied? Does she carry herself well? Does she have a nice, small, feminine shaped head?" Next I reflect on looking into her genetic history. I ask myself, “What is her mother like? Does she have a good calving history? Is she a good mother? Does she produce enough milk and raise a good calf?” Then I take the heifer's temperament into consideration. I look at her personality to determine if she is calm and easy going. This is an important deciding factor because the last thing I need in my cattle herd is a cow that is stubborn or difficult to deal with. The last major thing my dad and I look at when selecting a heifer to keep is the bull that sired the calf. For the most part, I feel comfortable keeping heifers out of the bulls my dad and I have due to their genetic makeup. I purchase bulls that have a history of making females that have good udders, good milk supply and good mothering ability. However, my dad has a couple of bulls that just put pounds on the calves. They are used strictly for making calves that grow and put on weight, not for keeping females. All of these things are taken into consideration when my dad and Melissa and I choose heifers to keep to make into cows.

For me, after looking at the structural soundness of the calf, the thing I look at the most is the calf’s mother. We have kept back heifers for at least 10 years, and I know every cow in the heard front to back. There are cows, that if they have a heifer, right then and there I know we will be keeping it because of the history of that cow. Then if that heifer goes on and produces a heifer we will be keeping it, and so on. My dad and I have so many cows that have daughters and granddaughters in our herd. It’s good to keep using what works, as in so many other things, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

Farming and ranching is an occupation of constant improvement of the operation. As a producer, I am always looking for ways to improve the herd to make a better product for the consumer. Raising cattle is an in-depth process, one that requires a lot of time spent looking at genetics, and evaluating the desirable traits we want in the herd. To keep or cull a heifer is not a question that can be answered right away; it is a process. Choosing to keep a heifer takes time. It requires a thorough evaluation of all the factors involved in selecting the traits and characteristics desired for the herd. It is not easy to cull out the heifers I don’t want, but I have to keep the end goal in mind; the overall enhancement of the herd.


Corn silage- Fodder prepared by storing and fermenting green forage in a silo. Corn silage is a popular forage for cattle because it is high in energy and digestibility.

Cull- To remove rejected members from the herd

Heifer- refers to a young cow before she has had a calf

Sire- Male parent of an animal.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...