Careful cull cow finishing will help boost returns

With prices for quality cull cows exceeding £1000 at live markets and £2.15p/kg deadweight, producers should look to capitalise on this before the glut of cows comes on to the market at the end of the year.

Well fleshed beef and dairy cull cows are in strong demand at the moment and prices are reflecting that, says Southern Counties Fresh Foods’ senior fieldsman Charles Morley. “But farmers have a window of opportunity until August before the yearly glut of cull cows come on to the market.”

Now is the time to assess the cull cow group and select those cows that need a six week period of finishing and those that can get away with shorter, he says. “Grass still remains the most cost efficient form for better quality cows, but don’t be afraid to look at alternative feeds such as bread and vegetable waste and other high energy products.

“Although cereals are currently expensive they remain efficient in terms of dry matter cost a tonne. It’s also worthwhile consulting your feed supplier to discuss the types of feeds available for cull cow finishing,” adds Mr Morley.

Equally producers have to understand their end market in terms of weight, conformation and fat level, says EBLEX regional manager Clive Brown. “Outlets will differ in terms of animals required, so it’s worth shopping around if you can.”

cow cull finishing

He also advises making the decision early on as to which cows require finishing, as some won’t benefit no matter what you feed. “Bite the bullet and accept a lower price for poorer cows, but concentrate on those that will create a good return from finishing properly.

“It’s also more efficient to start the finishing period before the end of lactation as these cows will hold condition and show a marked difference in about six weeks.”

And when marketing, Mr Brown says some farmers are still making silly mistakes. “Ensure all cattle are tagged properly – those cows born after January 1998 should have two legible ear tags. Paperwork also needs checking, as those cows on green passports require a certificate of registration.”

Farm assurance is another point to consider. “Cattle must be assured under a recognised beef scheme which includes the NDFAS dairy beef scheme for cattle over two and a half years old.”

Cattle must be presented fit and clean for slaughter, stresses Mr Brown. “Unhealthy animals might be condemned as unfit for human consumption with no payment made, so consider treating cattle of doubtful health before presenting for slaughter.

“And be mindful of the fact different end markets have different requirements for drying off, so check before selling and always adhere to medicine withdrawal periods.”

Cull cow price is now better than it was pre 1996, adds Mr Morley. “It’s worth feeding that bit extra to produce a 400kg carcass that will pay you well over £900.”

Top tips for cull cow finishing

  • Understand market requirements
  • Start finishing before end of lactation
  • Check all relevant paperwork and farm assurance
  • Present fit and clean cattle for slaughter

For more information on finishing cull cows and farm assurance go to:

Feed may be expensive, but current cull cow values justify spending a little more on them to ensure they’re well fleshed.