Farm and Field

Farmers face culling cow herds

Posted: Jul. 8, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Jul. 23, 2018 11:00 am

In dry weather with short pastures, cow-herd owners face tough culling decisions, and one way to match cows' needs to available grass is to sell cows.

Give careful thought to which grass eaters go first, said Eric Bailey, University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist.

The first cut is simple, Bailey said. Even the best herds have poor performers that need to be culled. Sell cows not pregnant or nursing. There is no need for freeloaders when forage is short.

"Next, cull lactating cows with bad disposition, bad eyes, bad feet or bad udders," Bailey said. "Now's time to remove cows with blemishes or poor-doing calves."

Some culling helps even in good years because culling poor cows improves herd averages.

The goal is to keep the best genetics in the herd as long as feasible -- or until lack of feed or water forces a move.

Downsizing goes beyond simply getting rid of bad cows.

Early weaning and selling calves can cut feed demand. That provides needed cash but can hurt annual income.

Another strategy calls for splitting a herd into young and old females. Sell one of the groups. Two- to 4-year-olds may have superior genetics, but older cows show success in the farm's management.

With winter feed a big long-term problem, many farms face severe destocking.

"Initially consider a 25 percent cut. If normal rains don't return, consider another 25 percent later," Bailey said. "Producers who last longest in cow-calf businesses are not those who make the most money in good years. They are those who lose the least in bad years."

Exotic pest

An exotic pest that hitchhikes on train cars, trucks and boats could suck the life out of Missouri crops.

University of Missouri Extension field crop entomologist Kevin Rice says spotted lanternfly has the potential to establish populations in Missouri. It damages soybean, corn and hops, as well as fruit and ornamental trees -- and according to MU Extension viticulturist Dean Volenberg, it could have damaging effects on the state's 1,700 acres of grapes, its primary host.

Adult lanternflies are active in June and July. The plant hopper's honeydew secretions attract other pests, and it leaves weeping wounds as it feeds.

The adult lanternfly's forewing is gray with black spots. The wingtips are black blocks outlined in gray. It has distinctive bright orange-red and white underwings, but it appears less vibrant and may be difficult to see when its wings are not spread, Volenberg said.

It likes fall feeding on Allanthus altissima, also known as tree of heaven, a medium-sized invasive tree with stout branches that spread to form an open crown.

When spotting a lanternfly, the experts suggest:

º Do not kill it. The insect contains cantharidin, the same toxic chemical found in the blister beetle.

º Capture if it possible.

º Take a photograph, and email it to

º Collect a specimen, and put it in a vial filled with alcohol to preserve it.

º Take it to your county Extension center and note where it was found, including GPS coordinates. The center will send it to Rice, who will track its spread in Missouri.

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