Culling: When it's time to get rid of a dear cow

07th Dec, 2019

Workers process meat at a beef Slaughter House at ol-Pejeta Conservancy in Nanyuki Laikipia County. The meat is later transported to markets in Nairobi, Ol-Pejeta keeps over 6000 herds of cattle at the conservancy. [Phillip Orwa, Standard]

There comes a time when you must get rid of that precious animal. It is perhaps the most painful decision a farmer has to make.

It is called culling. Culling is the action of sending an inferior or surplus farm animal to be slaughtered.

The animal is killed sometimes as a salvage procedure because it is not giving the farmer much yet it is incurring feeding costs.

Farming is a profit making venture and if that is not happening; some re-adjustments must be made.

One such re-adjustment is reducing the herd size by getting rid of animals that are not performing optimally and that is where culling comes in.

The main goal of culling is to make your load (read costs) lighter.

For farmers doing replacement or buying foundation stock, be careful not to buy an animal that is being culled from a farm except when the farmer is doing that to specifically reduce the herd size.

Some solid background check may help you establish why the farmer is selling the animals. But be warned that this may be a guarded secret as it has a bearing on the price.

You need some discerning skills to tell the chuff from the wheat, but working with a vet helps. So what are the instances when culling is necessary? There are many but I will focus on a few.

When she is no longer productive

Let’s say you have this dear cow that in her hey day, she was your best animal and would give you more than 30 litres of milk a day, but over the years things change.

First, ageing has taken a toll on her and she is barely surviving. Sell her off immediately because keeping her longer will turn her into a pet, which is costly.

There might be other causes of declining productivity not necessarily linked to ageing. It could be a chronic disease in the digestive system that has lowered digestion.

The most common is swallowed polythene bags that lounge in the rumen, occupy space and lower ruminal movements.

Removal of such requires surgical intervention which may not be cost effective. Same applies to swallowed nails and metal (hardware disease).

To avoid such disasters, keep your compound clean and provide a balanced diet to prevent these diseases.

The lame animal

Imagine you have this best milk producer but she has fallen and broken a limb. Yes, she must die! Prepare yourself psychologically to send her to the slaughter house.

Her big body weight and subsequent challenges in immobilising the broken limb leaves very little probability of healing and regaining the use of the limb.

Painful as it is, let her go, the fractured part maybe condemned but you will still get a relatively good price.

To minimise chances of fractures do not leave open holes and trenches, avoid tethering the animals with short ropes and in areas with lots of stumbling objects like tree stumps and stones.

Fence your compound to keep off roaming dogs that can scare animals to run haphazardly and predispose them to fractures.

When the animal is sick

Yes you bought her at a very high cost, she has great potential but she cannot conceive for some reason. The Artificial Inseminator has been to your farm several times but no conception has happened.

Yes she has good body structure and weight but you must let her go. Accept that you got a raw deal from the seller and move on.

‘Graduating Farmer’

My mother is a good example of farmer who has refused to “graduate”. My pleas to her to get a pure breed dairy cow have fallen on deaf ears.

She derives pleasure in her many zebus and has refused to cull them all and have one exotic dairy cow. If you started off with crosses it is time to let them go and get a pure bred for more milk.

This is not sweet decision, it is a painful one for many farmers but one with sweet returns.


[The writer is the vet of the year in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council, [email protected]]

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