I truly wish this article was not following the same themes as last year, but it seems we are continuing to battle with a dry, hot growing season. However, this year is different as we are further into our drought with not as much irrigation water, poor range conditions and increased temperatures. So the question remains, what is a rancher to do?

Willmore carmen
Extension Educator / University of Idaho Extension – Lincoln County

Well to be honest, there are not many grazing options with no water, so instead you must turn to your management considerations. The most common place to start is cull cows. When you are short on grass and even shorter on hay and winter feed, it’s best to start thinking of how to decrease the number you must feed. Typically, cull cows are those that are low performers that are either not rebreeding, bringing in lightweight calves or in decreased or bad body condition.

If you wean and sell calves in early fall, these cull cows can be marketed as soon as their calves are weaned. With a shortage of feed this year, selling them immediately after weaning is probably the most economical decision so you won’t use up feed you could use for the cows you are keeping.

Because of current climatic and economic conditions, your culling decisions this year may have to go deeper into the herd, meaning you may be culling more than you have in years past, which can cause you to cull some cows you would not have in other years. When making these decisions, it is important to consider cows that only have one or two more productive years left.

Also think about if they will be able to maintain their condition and raise a calf if drought conditions do not improve by next year. If your answer is no or questionable, the answer is probably to send them down the road. By liquidating a higher number of cows, you can concentrate your resources on the cows you keep, ensuring they have enough feed over the winter to give birth to and raise a calf next year.


Characteristics of a cull cow:

  • Poor mothers
  • Unsound udders
  • Damaged or non-functioning teats
  • Bad feet and legs
  • Bad disposition
  • Cancer eye
  • Lump jaw
  • Other physical problems