As summer fades into fall, a number of events occur on the ranch, with the most important being weaning. All the calves born in the spring are nearing six months of age and will be getting their first round of pre-weaning vaccinations to ward off pneumonia. Since the cattle are in a pen for this event, it is a great opportunity to ultrasound the cows to see which ones are bred for next year.
Why is ultrasounding or another form of pregnancy detection done yearly for cows? It has to due with using our limited resources wisely. Cows have a job, and that job is to raise a calf every year to sell. If they don’t raise a calf, they are wasting natural resources (grazing, water, etc.) without producing a usable result (in this case, tasty beef). If a cow is not going to raise a calf next year, then she needs to be removed from the herd, which in cowboy language means she is “culled”.
But being not pregnant (or “open,” as being not pregnant is called in rancher language) is not the only reason a cow can be culled. Other reasons include poor udder confirmation, lameness issues, or just having a bad attitude that could result in people getting hurt. The perfect time to do this is right after the current year’s calf is weaned, so that less resources are utilized on that cow.
Cows that are culled are typically sold to be harvested for beef. Because the cow is more mature than the beef steer finished on corn, it will be leaner and probably a bit tougher. However, this makes the cull cow a great source of lean hamburger.
Ranching is about using the resources the land provides to make a healthy and delicious source of protein. Because that’s the goal, ranchers take care to make wise culling decisions every year so this process maximizes the efficient use of our limited resources. It’s just part of our efforts to feed a growing world population while working in sync with the environment.