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What females should I sell?

26 April 2021

Female sales should contribute to almost half the cattle sales in any beef enterprise so choosing which ones to sell can have a massive impact on profitability because:

  • male sales are usually prioritised in management strategies and genetic selection, and female sales may get overlooked
  • high performing breeders mean a high performing herd
  • genetic progress and herd structure is improved.

In controlled mated intensively managed herds, sale of surplus females fits with normal annual livestock marketing plans. Stock can be readily mustered at short notice and selling options can be easily altered if needed.  

However, in large extensive and continuously mated herds, a breeder cow may only be yarded once or twice a year so the process of accumulating sufficient numbers and securing markets becomes more challenging.  

On the spot decisions need to be made for each female as to survival, future productivity and market specifications. Here’s what livestock managers in these environments need to consider when deciding on what females are retained and which should be sold this year.

Minimise cow mortality rate

Minimising breeder cow mortality rates is critical to achieving a successful business outcome – it is the key profit driver when rates exceed 5%. So, the process of selecting which breeders to cull is a balance between retaining enough cows to produce sufficient weaners, maintaining stocking rates that don’t exceed carrying capacity and ensuring as few as possible animals die on the farm where their value can never be realised.

A ‘cull nothing’ approach results in overstocking and increased mortality rates, and profitability is compromised when all breeders, or the wrong breeders are retained.

Check market specifications

Before consigning cull females for processing, check the processor grids and ensure the animals are more than 180kg dressed weight.

Remember, the stage of pregnancy influences females dressing percentage, which is always lower than males.

Cost of replacement heifers

Do you have adequate pregnant replacement maiden heifers available to swap for unproductive breeders? Keep this in mind when deciding what animals to cull.

Five culling guidelines to improve profitability

1. Bad temperament: Breeders with poor temperament are a potential workplace and safety issue and should be removed as soon as possible.

2. Deformities: Females with deformities such as bottle teats, cancer eyes and ingrown horns should be removed to ensure animal health and welfare of the whole herd is maintained.

3. Fat and non-lactating cows > 5 years: Many of these animals will be pregnant at the first muster so it’s highly likely they will calve out of season and not reconceive the following year.

4. Aged cows: Prior to commencing the muster, the decision should be made to cull animals with a broken mouth. Animals losing teeth are difficult to fatten and sell, and their weaner offspring are often lighter in body weight.

5. Maiden heifers: Maidens above their critical mating weight that failed to conceive should be culled, as their future long-term productivity is usually less than average.