Conventional wisdom has held that open cows should be sold after pregnancy detection; either immediately or after a feeding period to add weight and avoid low prices for cull cows that are typically observed in the fall. However, considering current economic conditions in the cattle business, Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist, asks whether this practice should always be followed without question?
"Exposing open cows for a fall calving season may make economic sense this year," Rusche said. "The value of all classes of cattle has increased greatly in the last year at the same time that feed costs have decreased."
He explained further by pointing out that a 1,250-pound young cow has approximately the same current value as does a feeder calf suitable for backgrounding. "Using today's cheaper feedstuffs and the existing bull battery, she could be exposed to breeding for a fall calf," he said. "Thus there may be an opportunity in some cases to increase ranch profitability by breeding open cows, either as a complement to the spring-calving herd, or to be sold to other producers looking for fall-calving cows."
Best candidates for re-breeding
The best candidates for this strategy, Rusche said would be young cows that have the most productive life remaining and the greatest potential for added value when sold later as a bred cow compared to her current value as a cull cow.
Older cows, on the other hand, would not be great candidates for this strategy because Rusche said they have much less productive life remaining and it's unlikely that there would be enough extra value to capture to make the effort worthwhile.
He added that the situation is very similar with yearling heifers. "Their value as open feedlot heifers will be relatively high compared to what they would be worth as a fall-bred female," he said.
With yearling heifers, Rusche said another important factor to consider is that reproductive failure in these cattle is much more likely to be caused by inherent fertility problems that wouldn't be corrected with additional chances at breeding.
A concern that some producers might have is that re-breeding open females might perpetuate genetics associated with poorer fertility. Rusche said this is a valid concern, "especially if these cows were used to produce replacements, or if these are young females with little or no history of reproductive success," he said. "This becomes much less of a concern if these cows are used in a terminal system where all calves end up in the feedlot."
If this strategy is followed, accurate production records should be kept to make sure that cows are only given one extra chance, and not carried over multiple times.
Available feed supply
Another factor Rusche said cattle producers need to consider is feed supply. "If there is any question that the feed supply on the ranch will not be sufficient to make it until the start of the grazing season next spring, open cows should be culled regardless of age," he said.
He added that the surest way to reap the rewards that the marketplace is offering is to keep as many productive cows in the herd as the available feed supply will support. "If available feed supplies are limited, retaining additional cattle that won't produce calves next spring makes little sense if that decision leads to premature culling or liquidation," Rusche said.