When to Cull an Animal

Raising livestock can be an emotional journey. You work their whole life to make sure they are taken care of, fed, watered, on fresh pasture, and happy. You know that they have an end date. So, to make up for the sadness you feel when it’s their peak time, you work extra hard at giving them the best possible life you can!

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But what happens when an animal cant make it to the scheduled end date? What if they are suffering? What if they are hurt? What if they aren’t good for your farm?

Well, then it becomes a decision based on the animals quality of life and your farms needs. I’m going to share a few times that we have had to make these very hard decisions on our farm and why we decided it was the best option to give our animals.

I hope it goes without saying, but maybe I should say it anyway.. we are animal lovers. We do not like to see an animal die or be the reason an animal is dead. But we understand the circle of life. So, our primary goal is to make sure our animals are loved, cared for, and given the best life possible before they are called for their purpose.

One morning, I went to feed the peepers. I noticed one of the chicks had a deformity that looked like a cleft pallet. This animal was unable to open its beak and you could see through part of it. At this moment, the peeper did not seem to be in much pain, however, I knew it was unable to eat or drink. Without the ability to receive nutrients, I had to make the decision to euthanize it. Before it had time to suffer, before it died on it’s own slow and and painful death. I made the decision to end its suffering.

Now. A much harder story to tell..

Pheobe was our favorite cow! She was a smaller cow that had just had her first calf. We talked with our vet after I noticed her poop was solid blood. We quarantined her from the herd and gave her an antibiotic.

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Yes, we use antibiotics on this farm because when I have a sinus infection I want to kill the infection and feel better. Yes, we follow all label and vet instructions, that includes any withdrawal periods required. Withdrawal periods are a timeframe determined by the company stating how much time must pass after treatment before harvesting to prevent human contamination.

The antibiotic worked! She was healthy and her calf was healthy as well! Pheobe and her calf joined the herd in the pasture and all was great. When it was time to wean her calf and get her bred again, Pheobe was very thin and seemed sick again. We put her on a grain diet to help get her back to proper weight but she still seemed sick. After multiple vet visits, a couple rounds of medication, and trying to get her bred via AI (artificial  insemination), we sent her to my dads farm with his bull, Buddy. We thought a greener pasture would help with her weight and Buddy would be able to breed her.

Side note: you can read more about the differences between AI and bull breeding here.

After being at my dads farm for a month, we got a call that she was down. In cow language, down means she cannot get up on her own. We aren’t sure what happened exactly, or what was wrong with her to begin with. But, my intuition tells me she had some type of gastrointestinal issue that was non curable. We elected to have a vet humanely euthanize her.

Down cows are hard to get going again. They have a lot of fight in them but once that is gone, you cant make her have more will.

A decision to cull her was hard. Not only was she the sweetest, most docile cow we have ever had, she also made the farm money. But her quality of life was more important than our $$.

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Culling an animal can mean many things but it is never easy. And no one likes doing it. But at the end of the day, this is our business, our livelihood, how we buy groceries. We need animals that support that model.

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