Placing cull cows in a feedlot might be more profitable than putting them on pasture or sending them directly to slaughter.

That’s according to a study conducted by Iowa State University’s Iowa Beef Center. It was done in conjunction with the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity Cooperative and Iowa Lakes Community College.

One hundred beef and 12 dairy cull cows of varying body condition, weight and age were separated into three groups and placed in three feedlots last fall. The plan was to see if an aggressive feeding program would achieve white fat in the cows.

What’s white fat? USDA calls it "Premium White," a term for two meat grades that recognize and reward white fat instead of the more typical yellow fat. Meat cuts from mature animals with a white fat covering and more marbling are desired in some export and domestic markets and family style restaurants.

The cows were slaughtered this spring. The dairy cows in the trial didn’t gain well or convert feed efficiently. But nearly 90% of the beef cull cows reached one of the two white-fat premium scores. The feeding allowed the cows to gain significant weight, achieve higher dressing percentages and make it into the Premium White grades, thus earning premiums. The end result was higher profits.

Daryl Strohbehn, ISU animal scientist, says profits ranged from $52 to $89/head.

"This study shows that producers might be able to do well by feeding their cull cows," he says. "But success will depend on several factors, and will require feeding, health and marketing management."

Strohbehn points out that the cull cow market has seasonal fluctuations, and national cow herd expansions and liquidations can have a major impact on market conditions. Estimate the buy-sell margin to make sure there is profit potential.

"Make sure the cows chosen for feeding are structurally sound, healthy and have a thin to moderate body," he advises. "Know where the cows can be sold and be proactive in securing bids. Use good management practices to make the cows gain as fast and efficiently as possible. This means using implants and feed additives that improve feed efficiency."

Complete details on the feeding trial and other information about managing cull cows is available from ISU’s Iowa Beef Center at http://www.iowabeefcenter.org