Culled cows no more
By John Spitler
It used to be that Delmar marckmann, like many Midwestern beef producers, pregnancy checked his mother cows each fall and those that failed to test were hauled to town.
About two years ago the Iowa State university's Beef Center introduced Marckmann to a more profitable niche for many cows that would have had nothing more than a traditional cull-cow's fate--the ominous last ride to town.
The alternative--white fat.
"We were approached by the American Foods Group to do this demonstration project," recalls Darrell Busby, Iowa Extension beef specialist. "They and other groups have a market for premium white-fat cows in the United States."
In conjunction with the Iowa Cooperative Extension Service, the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity and Iowa lakes Community College, the Beef Center fed about 100 beef and 12 dairy culls of varying ages, weights and body conditions at three feedlots around the state. Consigned by producers like marckmann, the trial's purpose "was to see what we could learn about the premium, white-fat cow market, and see if we could feed cows for that market to provide some additional income," say Bud Beedle, director of the East Pottawattamie County Extension Service, a participant in the test.
Studies found about 90% of the cows graded premium white someplace within a 72-day to 90-day feeding period. Some that were less than 30 months of age even graded choice. "And we found you can make the gains quite fast," say Extension Beef Specialist Daryl Strohbehn. Two groups, including culls owned by Marckmann, put on nearly four pounds a day. "They gained like crazy," Strohbehn says.
Crazy perhaps, but not particularly efficient. With these fully mature cows 10 to 12 pounds of dry matter were required per pound gain compared with the 6 to 7 pounds for younger animals.
Before the white-fat market, the marckmanns of the world often settled for something like a $40 cwt. market for culls. Selling to the white-fat market, the right cows can fetch twice that amount.
"Somewhere between 15 and 20% of the gross income for beef cow operations is in cull-cow sales," says Beedle. "So sale of the cull cow is an important part of the producer's annual income."
"It's a way to market some cows we no longer want in the herd because they fail to rebreed, or have bad feet, or bad dispositions," say Marckmann, smiling ear to ear. "We put them on feed for 70, 80, 90 days and come out with a pretty darn good product."
-The Iowa feeding test showed a cull-cow's fat color changes quickly.
-Culls also put on weight quickly, although, not efficiently.
-The right cow could bring twice the price in the white-fat market as the cull market.
Feed for white fat
Iowa State University Extension Beef Specialist Daryl Strohbehn says before deciding to feed cull cows, a producer should:
-Have a market for the cows.
-Get satisfactory answers to these questions: What will be the potential buy-sell margin? What effect will market seasons have?
-Make sure cows fed in the prgram are structurally sound and healthy with thin to moderate body condition scores.
-Use an aggressive implant program at the feedlot.
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