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Beef Quality Corner - Cull Cow Marketing

Livestock Update, October 2001

Bill McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, VA Tech

As autumn and the traditional cull cow marketing season approaches, it is time to begin planning the marketing of cull breeding stock. The sale of cull cows is not an insignificant source of income, typically making up 10% to 15% of the gross income to a cow/calf enterprise.

The 1999 National Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit identified several areas in which producers leave potential dollars on the table when selling cull breeding stock. The audit concluded that producers could have recaptured an average of approximately $70 per cow by correcting quality defects. The table below identifies the areas of costs from quality shortcomings.

Value Losses from Market Cows and Bulls

  1994 Audit 1999 Audit
Condemnations (cattle, carcasses, cooking) $12.02 $4.14
Condemnations (edible offal items) $3.99 $4.49
Disabled cattle (additional handling)$0.78 $0.56
Hide value losses (brands) $4.56 $3.10
Hide value losses (latent damage/insects) $2.36 $3.17
Trim loss (arthritic joints) $2.13 $9.72
Trim loss (bruising) $3.91 $2.24
Trim loss (zero tolerance) $1.87 $0.46
Trim loss (birdshot/buckshot) - - $0.52
Trim loss (injection site lesions) $0.66 $1.46
Yellow external fat $2.27 $6.48
Dark cutting muscle $0.06 $1.41
Inadequate muscling $14.43 $18.70
Excess external fat $17.74 $10.17
Light weight carcasses $3.12 $1.28
Antibiotic residue (handling/testing) - - $0.92
Total per Head $69.90 $68.82

Since the packer must deal with the economics of the defects above, the average live bid price is lowered to compensate for these hidden costs. Either the industry as a whole must correct the magnitude of the defects to achieve higher live prices or the individual might want to explore the potential of marketing culls on a carcass value basis.

One phase of the 1999 National Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit was a strategy workshop of representatives from each segment of the beef industry. The strategy workshop developed four directives for producers to improve the quality and value of market cows and bulls.

  1. Recognize and Maximize the Value of Your Market Cows and Bulls.
    Producers should remember that the sale of cull bulls and cows generate roughly 1/8 to 1/6 of their gross income. The use of special slaughter cattle sales or group marketing of load lots of culls can add value to the cattle. Altering the time of sale of cull bulls and cows can also improve the net price received. If ample supplies of low cost feed exist, additional pounds can be added and price per pound can be improved with cull cows by holding them into January or February and avoiding the typical autumn glut of market cows.

  2. Be Proactive to Ensure the Safety and Integrity of Your Product.
    In a world in which consumer confidence is key to maintaining beef demand, it is each producer's responsibility to be certain that only cattle free of chemical or physical hazard are offered for sale. It is the producer's legal responsibility to ensure that withdrawal times for pharmaceuticals and other animal health chemicals have passed before treated cattle are slaughtered. Foreign physical hazards in the flesh such as broken needles and birdshot must be totally eliminated from the nation's beef supply.

  3. Use Appropriate Management and Handling Practices to Prevent Quality Defects.
    If producers will simply remember that beef from those cull cows and bulls will be on a consumer's plate next week, they will be reminded that they are handling a food product in a leather wrapper. In the most recent audit only 11.8% of cow carcass were free of bruises. Attention to proper injection site location is just as important in cows as it is in younger feeder cattle. Many primal cuts from the ribs, loins, and rounds of cows find their way into family oriented steak houses. Producers who figure an injection site lesion in a cow sirloin steak is the packer's or retailer's problem are dead wrong. A quality defect that reaches the consumer is a problem for the whole industry.

  4. Closely Monitor Herd Health and Market Cull Cattle Timely and Appropriately.
    For many operations fall pregnancy testing offers an opportunity to individually evaluate each cow for conditions such as cancer eye, advanced lesions, arthritis, structural problems, injuries, emaciation or chronic illness. In too many cases trying to get one more year out of that problem cow means selling a subpar calf next year and significantly lowering the salvage value of the cow. Cows and bulls with injuries, diseases and conditions that impair their function should be marketed in a timely manner.

The 1999 audit strategy workshop also developed a Quality Assurance Marketing Code of Ethics for use by cattle producers, dairymen, and packers when marketing cows and bulls.

I will only participate in marketing cattle that:

Furthermore, I will:

Do everything possible to humanely gather, handle and transport cattle in accordance with accepted animal husbandry practices.

Finally, I will:

Humanely euthanize cattle when necessary to prevent suffering and to protect public health

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