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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Utilize Breakeven Production as a Culling Guide

Dairy Pipeline: April 2009

Beverly Cox
Extension Agent, Franklin County
(540) 483-5161;

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The level of milk production needed to cover feed costs increases as milk prices decline. Consequently, over the next few months, more cows will drop below this point. The breakeven point will vary from farm to farm depending on feed prices and pay price received (including quality and fat premiums). To determine breakeven production for your farm use the following formula:

Feed cost / milk price X 100 = lbs milk
cow cwt cow

Any cow making less than breakeven production should be a candidate for culling or early dry off. If she is a cull, your work is done. However, if you are considering early dry off, the cost of feeding her as a dry cow must be considered. While the cow will still be costing you money in the milking string, it may be less costly to keep her there a little longer than in the dry lot where she generates no revenue. For instance, a cow making 30 lbs. at $15/cwt and a milk ration cost of $5.00 costs you $0.50 per day. Unless you can feed her for less than $0.50 per day, you should keep milking her. Use caution with cows experiencing long dry periods to prevent fresh cow problems in the next lactation. These cows may need a separate group from dry cows with a normal dry period to prevent over conditioning.

Milk price Lactating ration $ Dry ration $ Cull cow lbs Early Dry off lbs
12 4.5 1.5 38 25
12 5.5 2.0 46 29
14 4.5 1.5 32 21
14 5.5 2.0 39 25
16 4.5 1.5 28 19
16 5.5 2.0 34 22

The University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability has an excellent tool to help calculate breakeven milk production per cow. To access the tool, go to http:// There are several spreadsheets available on this site which may be of interest. The one addressing cull cow breakeven is titled ‘Cull.xls’. The spreadsheet allows input for milk price (including premiums), production data (lbs/cow, fat %, protein %, SCC), and per cow costs for feed, labor, and milking supplies. You are encouraged to take advantage of this tool and others to provide an objective cost management tool.

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