Choose cows for finishing with care

Whether it’s dairy or suckler cows, the greatest return will come from marketing them at the right weight and body condition.

MLC beef scientist Mary Browne reckons that while the value of cull cow finishing depends upon specific market conditions, marketing cows with the best combination of weight and condition at least cost is advisable, particularly when natural periods of peak supply are avoided.

MLC states that dairy and suckler cull cows should be finished in 60-100 days with optimum fat cover.

Boost weight and condition by finishing only when market prices can justify it.

But planning culling and cull finishing must suit the type of cow, farm assurance and carcass requirements of the best available outlet.

“Producers now have to start taking account of commercial dressing specifications,” adds Dr Browne.

All culls should be dried off effectively while ensuring medicine withdrawal periods are strictly adhered to before marketing them to meet legislative and abattoir requirements.

“Producers should put weight and condition onto cull cows with a finishing regime only when realistic budgets show costs are likely to be justified by extra returns realistically available with better stock.”

She advises assessing culls on a simple evaluation system and only consider finishing those that both need it and will respond to it (see diagram below).

“Sell any animals in good condition or in poor health straight away.”

Finishing regimes should ideally last no longer than three months with growth rates of at least 0.7kg/day from high energy feeds with adequate long fibre for beef cattle and the equivalent weight gain for dairy cows from either grass, forage or similar concentrate, she explains.

“But rations must be balanced economically for critical energy, protein and mineral needs, comparing feeds on the basis of p/MJ of metabolisable energy and providing a dietary crude protein content of at least 12%.”

Towards the end of the finishing process culls should be handled regularly to assess cover to avoid over-fatness and price penalties.

EBLEX advises using abattoir returns wherever possible to monitor actual carcass results and ensure the greatest proportion of stock achieve the target weight, conformation and fat grade.

For more detailed advice see Beef Action for Profit at

For cattle born before August 1996 the Older Cattle Disposal Scheme will be operational from early 2006