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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Culling Policy Affects Milk Production Costs

Dairy Pipeline: November 1997

by Bennet Cassell
Extension Dairy Scientist, Genetics and Management
Virginia Tech

Back in 1991, Dr. Ron Pearson made a presentation at our Fall Dairy Management Conferences on the cost of cow turnover in Virginia herds. What he had to say was important then and still is today. Cow turnover is expensive. Some producers view cull cow value as "free" money and fail to see the decline in value from springing heifer to cull cow. Dr. Pearson pointed to three factors which affect replacement costs per cwt of milk produced:

  1. Net replacement cost: the difference in the value of a springing heifer and a cull cow. The open market determines this cost.

  2. The rolling herd average which determines the number of hundredweights of milk sold from a farm. Producers have some control on this factor.

  3. The turnover rate of the herd. Producers can make a difference in herd turnover.

An average herd in Virginia with a turnover rate of 35%, a rolling herd average between 18,000 and 19,000, under today's net replacement costs of at least $600 would face replacement costs of about $1.15/cwt milk produced. By comparison, current feed costs are $5.47/cwt. If the same herd increased production to 23,000 lbs, replacement costs would drop to about $.90/cwt. If that same herd reduced herd turnover rate from 35% to 25%, replacement costs would drop over $.30/cwt to about $.85/cwt produced. An increase in cull cow value with constant replacement heifer value would reduce the costs, but that's beyond the control of an individual farmer. Most articles on the economics of dairy production point out that dairy producers cannot control the price they receive for their product. However, they do have some control over production costs. Herd turnover rates can be reduced by emphasis on cow comfort, hygenic milking practices, balanced rations, good heat detection practices, and (to a much lesser extent) sire selection to increase longevity. There is an economic return to reduced culling rates. All cows will eventually leave the herd, but take the steps you can to keep them healthy and productive.

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