by Chris Reinhardt, feedlot specialist
Because of abundant, low-cost feed resources throughout the Midwest, the question of what to do with open cows is not as cut-and-dried as in past years.
One option—the conventional option—is to stay the course and market those open females through conventional channels as not fitting their present environment and production system. Open cull females are in demand and have value this fall and can be a ready source of capital.
Another option, depending on the flesh status of the open females, would be to feed them for a period to add flesh and pounds to their selling weight. If feed is plentiful and inexpensive and feeding is logistically feasible, this may be a way to profitably increase the value of open cull females. One key consideration is that, like fish in your refrigerator and visiting in-laws, feeding cows have a very limited shelf-life. Thin cows can be fleshed up and convert feed to gain fairly efficiently and cost effectively for approximately 45-60 days, depending on their initial body condition; after that period, nearly all of their added gain is fat gain and conversions become very poor, very quickly.
A third option, again depending on cost and availability of feed resources—this is somewhat outside of the box—is to convert open cull females to bred cull females. Breeding open cows this fall and over-wintering them may increase their value by transforming them from likely slaughter cows into a ready-made calf supply for producers who are eager to increase their cow herd, but may not be eager to buy open cows now, feed them throughout this winter and next spring until breeding season, and then feed them through another winter before they calve the following spring.
The rather sweet situation of abundant feed supplies provides a very exciting opportunity for ranchers to consider numerous alternative feeding and marketing plans for cull females. Some options may not have been on the radar but this is not a “normal” year.