Once you’ve decided on what cows to cull, you need to decide whether to sell them immediately, leave them with the herd in anticipation of increased cow prices, or separate and feed them a higher grain diet before sale.
That decision is based on factors such as expected price changes, feeding costs versus potential weight gain, grade improvement potential, and available facilities and time, says Neil Blue, market specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development in Vermilion.
But producers should also consider seasonal patterns in the marketing of slaughter cows, said Blue.
“November and December cull cow marketings are much higher than the numbers marketed in July and August,” he said. “Marketings continue to be high in January as many producers delay sales into a new tax year. Marketing volumes typically remain stable from April through August as producers sell open cows or cows that have lost a calf.”
That rise and fall in marketings affects prices.
“Cull cow prices are usually the lowest in November and December when marketing volumes are the highest,” he said. “Prices typically begin to improve in February, and from April through August, the cull cow price tends to be seasonally high.
“During this period, cull numbers are lower and demand for hamburger, the primary use of slaughter cow meat, is higher. This usually is the best time to sell cows that have failed to calve, have lost their calf, or for any fall-calving cows that are open.
The long-term annual beef cow culling rate averages about 11 per cent of the herd. Compared to 2013, cow slaughter was down about nine per cent in Canada last year and down about 14 per cent in the U.S. Despite the drop in cow slaughter from 2013, Canfax estimates that the 2014 Canadian beef cow culling rate was still about 13 per cent.
“Because of reduced U.S. cow slaughter, the weak Canadian dollar and continued strong demand for ground beef, cull cow prices are likely to remain historically high near term,” said Blue. “However, it is prudent to keep the seasonal supply-and-demand factors in mind when making the culling decisions.”