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Culling Open Younger Cows?

Pen of heifers. Photo credit: Barry Yaremcio

It is very common for producers to sell open cows after pregnancy checking. Some are old cows, and they need to be culled, and others are first or second calf cows. Is there value in keeping these animals?

First calf heifers have several challenges at calving as two years of age. Permanent teeth are coming in, which can reduce the ability of an animal to eat. These young animals should be at 85% of mature body weight at first calving. They need to produce milk and prepare for breeding season, but also need to continue to grow and be at mature body size by the time the second calf is delivered.

Many things need to be considered if keeping open cows in your herd:

·      Is the animal from a blood line that is highly productive?

·      How much winter feed and pasture are available to keep the open animals?

·      What is the cost of keeping an animal for a year without producing a calf?

Economics plays a major role in the decision. Selling an open cow generates immediate cash flow. To keep long term cash flow constant, these animals need to be replaced. It takes two years for a heifer to deliver their first calf. According to the Manitoba Beef Cost Guide (2023), the cost to raise a replacement heifer is $3,500. To keep a young or mature cow on farm for a year, the cost is $1,600.

To maintain cow herd numbers constant, another option is to purchase bred heifers. Prices vary from location to location. Purchasing bred heifers needs to make economic sense for the operation.

The decision to keep or sell open younger cows depends on the priorities and objectives of the operation.

For more information on feeding open heifers and cows, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or


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