On dairy farms, the term cull cow often has a negative connotation. However, those cows that are retired from the milking string and sold for beef are a valuable asset for any dairy.
University of Wisconsin Division of Extension agriculture agent Aerica Bjurstrom encourages farms to look at cull cows in a more positive light and call them market animals instead.
“Dairy farmers don’t consider themselves beef producers, but they should,” Bjurstrom said during a “Badger Dairy Insight: Animal Care on the Farm and Beyond” webinar.
She shared that dairy cattle represent 20% to 25% of the U.S. beef market, and FARMBENCH data shows that cattle sold for slaughter make up 6.6% of total dairy farm sales. Bjurstrom said for a 250-cow dairy, that could equate to $60,000 to $100,000 of income per year.
The physical health of a cow impacts its ability to manage the trip, and before any animal is shipped off the dairy, Bjurstrom said to assess its fitness for transport.
“When you think about putting a cow on a trailer, you want to put a cow on there that is going to make it all the way to its final destination,” she said. Bjurstrom noted that this is a subjective decision, and each farm should establish its own set of standards.
Remember that transportation is stressful for animals, as it can involve mingling with different cattle, long periods of standing, weather extremes, and little or no access to feed and water. If you load a cow on a trailer that may not be able to handle these circumstances, you are putting both the animal and your reputation at risk.
When trying to decide if a cow is in the right condition to ship for beef, Bjurstrom said to ask yourself this question: Would you be willing to put your name and phone number on the side of that cow?
If not, perhaps the animal needs to be kept a little longer to get in better health or gain some weight. Or, if the animal is in declining condition, euthanasia on the farm may be the most humane option. This also ensures a higher quality product is being sent to the packing plant.
“Dairy farmers need to consider themselves beef farmers from the get-go,” Bjurstrom summarized. “Get into the market cow mentality. They are a valuable asset to your farm.”