Evaluating and Conditioning Cull Cattle for Market
Dairy cows are dual purpose animals that provide milk and eventually, beef. When dairy cows have reached the end of their productive dairy life on the farm, it is important that they enter the market chain in the best possible condition.
- Dairy cows are dual-purpose animals providing milk, and eventually, beef.
When dairy cows have reached the end of their productive dairy life on the farm, it's time for them to enter the market chain.
With a reconditioning program in place, producers can minimize transportation issues associated with down cows, and maximize their profit potential at market.
- It's critical to identify potential market cows in your herd early.
Here are some things to look for when choosing cows to call.
- [Voiceover] Look for cows with the following problems.
Foot and leg issues.
Reproductive issues. Chronic mastitis.
Low production or genetic merit compared to the herd goals.
Other health issues.
- Once you determine that you'd like to call a particular cow, evaluating her body condition score will help you to decide if she's ready to be marketed, or if she needs to be reconditioned first.
- [Voiceover] Body condition is the amount of fatness or thinness on a dairy cow.
It is evaluated on a five-point scale, with 1 being extremely thin and 5 being extremely fat.
For a market dairy cow, the ideal body condition score is about 3.5.
A cow in good or excellent body condition will be fleshy, with adequate fat cover over her pins and rump.
- Call animals in good body condition should be sold as soon as their level of production drops below break-even value.
Sending a cow to market with a more ideal body condition score offers a producer these advantages.
The animal could qualify for processors' dairy beef premium.
Producers can schedule a market date and possibly avoid an emergency situation with the packing plant.
Ideally, animals with chronic conditions or a poor prognosis for recovery are identified early, avoiding high costs and extended medicine withdrawal times.
A cow with a poor body condition score of 1 or 2 has no fat cover, with bones seen around her hip, pelvis, and backbone.
She presents several problems.
For example, the animal can become injured or disabled during transportation.
In addition, animals in poor health can take longer to clear medications from their systems.
This could lead to antibiotic residue issues.
Unfit or recently treated animals could be condemned at the packing plant.
- If an animal is still in the milking herd and needs more condition for market, start preparing her with reconditioning management practices.
To recondition an animal, please consider the following.
- [Voiceover] Remove the cow from the milking herd, giving her time to recover and gain weight.
Feed market cows a diet with reasonable levels of protein and energy for 30 to 60 days.
This can include low-cost milking herd feed bunk refusals.
Rehabilitate the cow on pasture, or in a well-maintained bedded pack.
This is especially helpful for cows with mobility issues or large udders.
- The decision to remove a cow from the herd is difficult.
By making a choice earlier and incorporating reconditioning steps, cows can be sent to market in good condition.
This benefits everyone and helps prevent issues at the sale barn.
- In review, before you send a cow to market, remember TLC.
Treatment, locomotion, and condition.
If the cow received any treatments, have withdrawal times been followed?
Can she walk and stand for significant periods of time?
If she can't get on the trailer, or is at risk for going down during transport, or, if adequate withdrawal times cannot be met, she should be humanely euthanized on the farm.
Condition. Does she have adequate body condition?
If not, keep her until she can recover adequate body condition in a reconditioning program.
For more information on reconditioning programs and dairy cows, visit the Penn State Extension website.
Frequently Asked Questions