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Culling and transporting decisions important to dairy producers

Laura Kieser

At the recent Carver County Dairy Expo, Dr. Richard L. Wallace, veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health, spoke on the topic “Adding Value to Cull Cows and Reducing Food Safety Risk.”

Dr. Wallace believes that the dairy industry needs to shift its thought processes regarding the classification of surplus animals. Wallace said, “There are actually two classes of animals on dairy farms: production animals and market animals. Production animals include lactating cows, dry cows, replacement heifers, potentially, bulls for breeding. Market animals would include cull cows and bull calves. All production animals eventually become market animals. To that end, the dairy industry should discontinue using terms like cull, spent, salvage, junk and surplus, and begin using the term ‘market’ when referring to animals that are no longer economically productive.”

The decision to market a cow isn’t always easy. When making a marketing decision, dairy producers should consider many cow factors such as age, stage of lactation, milk production, health status, disposition, and reproductive performance. “Other economic factors such as current milk price, market cow price, and cost and availability of replacement heifers may have a role in determining whether or not to market a cow,” Wallace says.

Culling and transporting decisions are an important aspect of your dairy enterprise, but what’s the best way to make these decisions? Occasionally an animal that is ambulatory on the farm may not be suitable for transport to a packing or processing facility. Wallace recommends that you consider adhering to the “Top 10 Considerations for Culling and Transporting Dairy Animals to a Packing or Processing Facility,” developed by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

According to Dr. Wallace, these NMPF guidelines can help you make appropriate decisions on the suitability of an animal to be shipped.

NMPF Top 10 Considerations

  1. Do not move non-ambulatory animals to market under any circumstances.  Only allow ambulatory animals to be shipped to market.
  2. Make the decision to treat, cull, or euthanize animals promptly. Sick and injured animals should be segregated from the herd.
  3. Delay transport of an animal that appears to be exhausted or dehydrated until the animal is rested and re-hydrated.
  4. Milk all cows that are still lactating just prior to transporting to a processing facility.
  5. Use a transportation company that is knowledgeable about your animal care expectations and provides for safety and comfort of the animals during transport.
  6. Do not transport animals to a packing or processing facility until all proper treatment withdrawal times have been followed.
  7. Do not transport animals with a poor body condition, generally a body condition score of less than 2 (1-5 scale).
  8. Do not transport animals that require mechanical assistance to rise and are reluctant or unable to walk, except for veterinary treatment. When using any handling device, abuse must not be tolerated.
  9. Do not transport animals with bone fractures of the limbs or injuries to the spine. Animals with a recent fracture unrelated to mobility should be culled and transported directly to a processing facility.
  10. Do not transport animals with conditions that will not pass pre-slaughter inspection at a packing or processing facility. If unsure, consult with your veterinarian before transporting an animal to a packing or processing facility.

Dairy cow marketing decisions can have an important influence on the financial success of the dairy.  Voluntary marketing decisions can function as a component of genetic improvement programs designed for long-term gain and improved production efficiency. On the other hand, involuntary marketing may represent failure or limited success of health programs, resulting in cows leaving the herd prematurely due to death, disease, or health related problems.

For information on culling decisions and animal handling, please visit the U of MN Extension Dairy Team website at

Facts and Figures Regarding Cull Animals

March 2012

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