Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics

Options for culling cows this autumn

In late lactation, we’re often asked about the economics of milking cows on to the end of lactation or considering earlier culling. George Ramsbottom, Teagasc Dairy Specialist looks at three different options in this regard. He advises assessing current winter fodder stocks first and plan if short

This year, the circumstances underpinning such decisions has changed substantially.

Firstly we’re seeing a prolonged drought affect grass growth and farm cover in much of the south and east of the country.

Secondly the prevailing milk price and costs of forage and meals are all substantially higher than in previous years.

From a winter forage perspective, we were in a good position earlier in the year. We’re currently conducting a second forage survey to confirm that this still is the case. I suspect that in the eastern part of the country this position may not be as positive now. Some farmers had to feed second cut silage to their cows over the past number of weeks.


In determining the economics of milking on or of culling, I looked at three different options:

  1. Cull immediately from the parlour to the factory (or sell live in the mart);
  2. Dry off now and intensively finish the cow after a 60 day finishing period;
  3. Milk once a day for 60 days and then sell to the factory.

I’ve used current Bord Bia values for in or out of spec cows in the assumptions presented in Table 1. I’ve included the cost of silage and concentrates at values of €0.24/kg DM and €0.50/kg DM respectively. 

Table 1: Costs, output and additional margin over feed and forage of culling dairy cows immediately or after a 60 day period following either drying off and finishing or milking once a day and then selling.


  • 1Dry matter intakes of 11.7 and 17.0 /day for scenarios 2 & 3 respectively.
  • 2Carcase values of €4.30/kg; €4.60/kg; €4.45/kg for scenarios 1,2 & 3 respectively; ADG of 1.1kg and 0.6kg for scenarios 2 & 3 respectively.
  • 3Milk price assumed is €0.60/litre.


In all cases it is important to firstly establish the current winter fodder situation and if short develop a plan to secure supplies before deciding on which option to pursue.

Between September 1st and April 10th, the average cow will consume an estimated 3.4 tonnes of dry matter compared to an estimated 1.8 tonnes of dry matter when culled on December 1st.

Most of the saving of fodder stocks is achieved occurs when stock are culled sooner rather than later.

In scenarios 2 and 3 the cows selected must be in good physical condition and neither lame nor infected by mastitis to achieve the level of performance required. In situations where winter forage is in short supply, the prudent approach may be to sell immediately. A €0.42/kg drop in carcass value would eliminate the margin achieved by finishing following drying off and a short intense finishing period. The once a day milking option is the more lucrative one and less reliant of achieving a high carcass value once suitable cows are available.   

The Dairy Edge podcast 

Dairy specialist, George Ramsbottom, joins Emma-Louise Coffey on this week’s episode of The Dairy Edge podcast to consider whether to cull empty cows early or milk them until December.

For more episodes from the Dairy Edge podcast go to the show page at: www.teagasc.ie/thedairyedge

 The Teagasc Dairy Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to dairy farmers every Monday here on Teagasc Daily. Find more on Teagasc Dairy here