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The Cattle Business

Livestock Update, October 1996

Bill McKinnon, Animal & Poultry Sciences

'Tis the season for cull cow marketing. All over the country, we are entering the period when our largest supply of cows are sent to slaughter. Cows which weaned "one more calf" are finally being sent to town. Additionally, the industry is downsizing its production plant, the nation's cowherd, as calf receipts fail to cover cow maintenance costs.

Last fall some producers were heard to say that since culls were bringing so little, you could not afford to sell the cull cows then, but wait until the market got better. It is a year later and the market is not much better, nor should one expect it to get better for some time to come. Remember, we are in the liquidation phase of the cattle cycle. Holding on to open or subpar producing cows just causes the operating loses to increase while waiting two to three years in hopes that the slaughter cow market might improve.

Individual profit-oriented, cow/calf operators will give each cow a hard look as she comes down the chute this fall. It is hard to justify keeping any open cow in this kind of market, when a replacement female can be purchased for the open cow's salvage value plus a value less than the cost of keeping the open cow another year. Cows which wean lightweight or discounted calves need to hit road and be replaced with new and improved models. This is also a time to trade in old and hard keeping cows. Both of these may have a tougher time going through the winter in proper flesh and rebreeding on time.

As producers consider their cull cow marketing, they may want to avoid selling culls during the busy October through early December period. During this peak season of slaughter cow marketing, the system tends to get overcrowded. This may be especially true this fall, as cow liquidation nationwide brings a heavier cow run to town.

Some operators may want to consider holding cows until late December or into early 1997 to avoid the big fall run and add dollars to their cull sales. One of the positives of the unusually wet late August and September has been the prospects of excellent fall pastures. Utilizing this growth with cows will obviously add pounds to the sale weight. On thin, shelly cows, gains put on this fall will improve the grade or yield of slaughter cows and ultimately their price per pound. Additionally, we tend to get a general appreciation in slaughter cow prices from the Oct. - Nov. period into late December (1995 was an exception).

If an operator has a significant number of slaughter cows to sell, he should plan their marketing just as he would his feeder cattle. He should work with his local market operator and forewarn him of a big group of cows coming to town. The cow/calf producer may want to consider the use of an organized slaughter cattle sale in which to market his culls. Additionally, a few markets have organized commingled slaughter cow and bull sales which have drawn additional buying power to the sale.

Before marketing slaughter cattle, the owner must make sure that withdrawal times for applied chemicals such as dewormers or grubicides have passed. The industry is becoming increasingly capable of owner tracebacks and ultimately we owe our customers a residue free product. We also must remember that almost every time we punch or hit that cow on the rump with a cane or stick, a bruise is created which must be trimmed. The 1994 National Non- Fed Beef Quality Audit indicated that roughly 80% of beef cow carcasses had significant bruises. The rounds and loins were the most frequently bruised wholesale cuts which is fairly plain evidence of how we handle cows. The economic impact of bruise trimming has to be factored into prices paid for slaughter cows. Over time as we improve the product yielded from cull cows, the industry has more to pay back to producers.

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