When heifer inventories are considered, an often-overlooked impact of a smaller heifer inventory is a need to take a closer look at culling rates in the lactating herd.

“Our goal for a combined culled and died rate is 25%. We are trying to get culls at 20% and death loss at 5%,” detailed SwissLane Farm’s Tom Oesch. “We aren’t there quite yet, but that’s our goal. We cull based on reproductive failure, lameness, udder quality, milk quality, and health.

“It’s a tricky business to go from culling at 35% to 20%,” the Michigan dairyman explained. “There’s a lot of extra cows that you are going to have to like for a while that you didn’t keep before. It changes the way that you think about things. Not that we didn’t value cows before, but now we do a postmortem on every cow that dies. We can’t afford dead cows if we don’t have heifers to replace them.”

Three other farms shared additional insight in this Hoard’s Dairyman Intel as well as the Round Table “We breed for the number we need” found on pages 116 to 118 of the February 25, 2020, issue of Hoard’s Dairyman.

Here are their responses regarding the question, “What is your culling criteria for your adult herd?”

Helt Dairy, Dane, Wis.: Our cull rate on the lactating herd is 35%. We are pretty particular about which animals we keep. If we have any cows with mastitis three times in a single lactation, they will immediately be listed for culling. We also cull cows we have identified as “do not breeds” (DNB) when they fall below 50 or 55 pounds of production.

We will continue to change our culling strategy as 2020 advances because we still have an excess of heifers entering the herd. For us, culling comes down to answering the question, can we get a better animal in that freestall? We know that our older cows make more money, but the heifers carry the best genetics. We strive to find a balance between the two.

Oakridge Dairy, Ellington, Conn.: Currently, we are at a 30% cull rate or about 900 culls per year. Our goal is to reduce that to less than 28%. We’ve been able to drop our cull rate and ultimately lower our heifer rate at the same time. So now, we shoot for 75 culls per month, so that’s 75 springing heifers every month.

Our culling criteria is based on a list that we generate on Dairy Comp. We cull cows that have repetitive issues with mastitis or sickness. Then, we go to our DNB list. That list is organized to cull cows with reproductive and milk production issues. If a cow drops below 50 pounds of milk and is not able to be bred back, our goal is to get that cow on a cull list. That list is continually evolving.

We now watch our culling list really carefully to make sure that we aren’t culling more cows than heifers we are bringing into the herd. We keep trying to drive our cull rate down, and in turn, creating the right number of heifers.

Zahncroft Dairy, Womelsdorf, Pa.: We are around a 25% cull rate. To make those decisions, we look at fat and protein produced as well as their reproductive ability and somatic cell count. We have not changed our culling strategy since more carefully managing our heifer inventories.

We believe keeping cows in the herd longer is a two-pronged approach to profitability. We have less heifer rearing costs since we do not need as many replacements, and we are getting the cows past that third lactation, which makes them profitable.

Read more on how these farms breed for the number they need in February 25 issue or in these Hoard’s Dairyman Intels.
Too many heifers. Now what?

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2020
March 16, 2020
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