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Wednesday, July 5, 2000

CULLING ..... Keeping What Makes the Most Difference

by Linda Fullmer

Anyone who raises animals of any kind knows that eventually, culling the herd (flock, gaggle, whatever it happens to be!) is necessary, albeit a painful necessity. Culling means that individuals within the herd must be assessed by the most stringent of criteria, heart and emotion completely set aside. Although everyone must develop their own criteria for culling, I hope to address some of the most crucial aspects in this article. If I forget something that you feel is important, please let me know!

Breeding success within a flock or herd … we'll use herd just for the sake of consistency … is what keeps the operation viable. If certain females are not longer able to produce, then it's time to cull them from the herd. If certain females do not produce to the standard of the animal that you are raising, then it's time to cull them from the herd. Now for a bit of a disclaimer … I have an 11 year old ewe in my flock. I'm rather attached to this old crone and although she's gone through one emergency C-section and lost triplets as a result, she's continued to produce one or two lambs per season after that operation. I'm a bit disappointed that she has yet to producer her own replacement (ewe lamb) and am going to give her a couple more chances to do just that. Most folks know that sheep are usually culled out at age 5, so this old biddy has been her twice as long as she probably should have been! If she doesn't produce this coming Spring, I will let her go since her other purpose has long been deleted from her life … she was the companion to one of my stallions before his death.

Setting the standard for what you are producing with your animals is important to any operation. If you're new to raising any sort of livestock, do your homework and find out what that standard is for your animals and then look at what you have. If they don't meet the greater percentage of the standard guidelines, then culling will most likely be necessary. If your breeding females are close, but not quite the standard and your breeding male meets or exceeds the standard, plus comes from a family that has been genetically prepotent in the standard, you have the option of keeping back his daughters since those should be an improvement over the dams. If you have the reverse of that, get rid of that breeding male and find one that meets or exceeds the standard. Your females will produce one to three offspring per season, depending on what you are raising, but the male will sire them all. It's a good idea to be extremely critical of your breeding males whether you're raising sheep, horses, cattle, hogs… even chickens! It's also not a good idea to expect that a superior breeding male can overcome all the disastrous faults in breeding females! There has to be a balance between the two.

Non-genetic faults can be overlooked, most of the time, but will detract from your ability to sell quality animals. Understanding the difference between a structural fault caused by injury or illness and a structural fault that's the result of genetics can be difficult, but it is necessary. Again, do your homework and when possible, especially when purchasing breeding animals for your operation, look closely at the sire and dam, siblings, or other closely related animals. When you start producing those animals for yourself, study them and if there's a consistent fault showing up in any particular family line, you might need to cull that line.

One aspect that isn't given enough importance is disposition. The personality of an animal can make your life a breeze on a sunny day, or an absolute nightmare, coming back to haunt you day and night! Any vicious critter, whether male or female should be eliminated from your operation, no matter how well he or she produces, no matter how beautiful. Females will instill the same attitude upon their young and males can be downright dangerous. Outside of taking the normal precautions when working with a breeding male of any species, if you have to be armed to approach one or if you can't go about your daily chores without constantly looking over your shoulder, you just might want to rethink keeping that critter!

Attitude goes another step farther… to troublemakers! Those you can't keep in their enclosures, those that will blow through, crawl under, jump over a fence with no provocation other than to taste the grass on the other side are perfect candidate for culling! The time, money, and headache you save by eliminating those nuisances will be well worth the struggle to make that decision. Your neighbors will also consider you a "good operator" for protecting their yards and crops!

The most basic assumption to culling is numbers. Unless you are situated to keep generation after generation, culling becoming the necessity which most likely comes first. For us, that meant nearly cutting our sheep flock in half. The decision, though painful, was made for many reasons, but initially, it was lack of pasture and room. There were also a few fence crawlers that needed to leave and ones that were prone to bounce off the walls (or one of us!) for little to no reason. Now, we're back to a more manageable flock, a quieter flock, and one that is more apt to stay put!! Some that we let go were tremendous producers, some were mediocre; some were young with many years before them, some weren't. It took nearly four hours of studying and consultation between the two of us to come down to those that would be taken to market, but it was well worth it. One thing that never entered our minds was to keep one just because it was cute.

Culling is a "process of elimination" based on a particular set of standards or a criteria that leaves little room for doubt and less for flexibility. Keeping those that meet or exceed the standards you set will return more and be more pleasurable to work with in the long run.

Until next time!


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