Part of Agri-News

Improve returns from culled cows

Cull cows can represent a significant component of the cow-calf producer’s business.

See event listings and more articles in this edition of Agri-News: December 5, 2022 issue

“In Alberta, cull cow revenue has typically made up over 17% of the total value of production on cow-calf operations, as reported by AgriProfit$ for 2016 to 2020,” says Ann Boyda, livestock economist with the Alberta government.

The average annual price for cull cows in Alberta from January 2022 to the week of November 18, 2022 was $99.74/cwt, up 18% from the same period in 2021 and 14% above the 5-year average. Year to date cow slaughter in Alberta is estimated to be over 297,400 head, a 0.5% increase over the same period a year ago.

Graph 1. West Cow Slaughter and Alberta Cow Price

Slaughter and cow price graph
Source: Canfax and Canadian Beef Grading Agency

“Producers can improve their returns from culled cows in a number of ways, first by considering when cull cows are marketed in the year,” says Boyda. “As with most commodities, there is seasonal price variation driven by supply and demand. Spring calving and selling cull cows in the fall after pregnancy checks results in marketing at the low point for cull cows (October and November). If producers strive to hit the market closer to the uptick in cull market prices, May through August, they may consider weaning earlier and selling the cows by August.”

Secondly, producers can improve their returns by improving the carcass grade and yield of the cow by feeding to improve the condition of the animal. This approach works best when feed costs are not high and supplies are available.

Based on the Alberta Farm Input Price Survey, prices have increased by nearly 34%, 46% and 39% for feed barley, feed wheat and hay, respectively, for January to October 31, 2022 as compared to the same period in 2021.

“Care is needed to pencil out additional maintenance costs if holding cows longer prior to sale. Cost of gain for cows is generally greater than that of steers,” points out Boyda.

“Finally, a larger proportion of mature cows generally results in a higher percentage of calf crop weaned and heavier weaned calves if close attention is paid to reproductive efficiency, herd health and feed requirements. Keeping mature cows could also mean retaining fewer replacement heifers and lower replacement costs. The drawback could be slower introduction of new genetics.”

Alberta heifer feeder prices for the week ending November 18, 2022 were $36.63 to $50.83/cwt higher than the same week last year, and $7.90 to $18.26/cwt higher than the year to date from the previous year.

The average price for fed heifers for January through October 2022 was $170/cwt, 10.5% higher than the same period in 2021. Fed heifer slaughter for the same period was 4.3% higher in 2022 over 2021.

“As the 2022 cow run nears its end, and packer volumes have been secured for the holidays, the time may be right to think of next year’s culling strategies and the influence of the seasonal nature of cull cow prices and heifer replacement,” says Boyda.

For more information, see:

Agricultural Marketing Guide


Connect with Ann Boyda for more information:
Phone: 780-422-4088

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