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The Misunderstood Practice of Culling - What it Really Means

Updated on July 20, 2017
Theophanes profile image

Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.

Culling. Its a harsh sounding word with some seriously bad PR issues. Most laymen I ask think that culling has something to do with killing animals but this isn't always the case. Culling is a tool used by breeders to strengthen their bloodlines. Its vital and necessary and most often does not involve killing anything.

So What is Culling?

To cull something just means to take it out of the breeding population. Of course one method to do this is to kill the said animal but this is drastic and often unnecessary. More often culls are spayed, neutered, given to non-breeding homes, kept separate from the opposite sex, or if they're a bird or reptile they can have their eggs taken away so they don't hatch. All of these methods are acceptable means of culling.

Why Does the Public Think Culling Means to Kill?

This is because the word itself is dated. It was used long before having an indoor pet was considered the norm. Of course culling in these days was associated with farm animals and sadly once a farm animal looses its value on the farm it's often butchered and eaten for dinner. Those were times when most people could not afford to feed an extra mouth that had no other purpose than to wander around the farm as a companion animal. It was a harsh reality.

What is Culling Used For?

Culling is used by all dedicated breeders as a means of making their bloodlines better. In a farm setting having too many roosters is very common as almost half of fertile eggs turn out to be male chicks. Obviously its the hens that have value laying eggs and too many roosters will cause a lot of issues fighting over hens and territory. Most farmers in this setting will choose only a handful of the best roosters to keep - those that have the qualities they want to pass onto the next generation, and the rest of those extras often end up in the stew pot. In indoor pets culling is practiced on a smaller scale and for somewhat different reasons. Lets say that a dog breeder keeps one of their own puppies because as a puppy it has all the traits that breeder is aiming for. Now lets say that puppy grows up and is perfect in every way except now it no longer fits breed standards, didn't grow large enough to give natural birth to puppies, grows to have an unstable disposition, or has some possibly genetic medical condition. Now the breeder is faced with the decision to cull the dog. Unlike farm animals this usually means the animal in question is sold to an exclusively pet-only home under the condition it is never bred. Culling is how we keep our lines healthy, or beautiful, or well tempered. It is how we breed stronger healthier lines. Bad breeders who are in it just for the money will just throw together any two purebred animals and pawn off the likely substandard offspring to anyone who'll buy them. This would be the case with puppy mills, kitten mills, and some lousy smaller breeders. This is often why certain breeds have so many health issues because these people don't care if their toy poodles have heart murmurs so long as they can keep producing puppies and raking in the cash! This is often detrimental to pet owners and a very poor practice.

Baby elephant orphaned by large scale culling operation.
Baby elephant orphaned by large scale culling operation.

Are Wild Animals Ever Culled?

Yes, wild animals are subject to culling. Often times this has nothing to do with people. Say for instance that a baby deer is born with a malformed back leg. No matter how well its mother takes care of it that baby deer is not going to be able to run fast enough to get away from predators. It will not be able to reach adulthood and pass on this undesirable trait, instead wolves or other predators will likely pick it off while its still young and since it will never be a viable breeder the wolves will effectively have culled it. Sick animals will also be picked off by predators which eliminates the genes they might pass on to future generations that are susceptible to diseases. Believe it or not predatory animals practice culling and in their efforts make their prey stronger with successive generations.

Sometimes the culling of wild animals is practiced by humans. In the United States there are many people that hunt deer to keep their population down. In most areas hunters only kill the bucks, culling by gender. This is because the law knows that it only takes a handful of bucks to create the next generation while it takes a lot of does to have the same amount of offspring. By culling these extra bucks food sources for the deer remain plentiful and overpopulation and starvation don't set in. In areas where overpopulation and starvation is a problem hunters are often allowed to cull any deer they see regardless of sex to alleviate the problem. This is not by any means just an American thing - in Africa whole elephant herds have been slaughtered in culling efforts for many of the same reasons. Of course these actions came under great scrutiny as these culling operations were done so poorly - the weakest individuals weren't selected for culling, just random entire herds. This may be effective in keeping those particular elephants away from human settlements and making food sources more plentiful for the survivors but it does little else and didn't really benefit the species as a whole. If anything it did damage as babies were allowed to live - either sold off to zoos and circuses or given to sanctuaries where they grew up with no older elephants to keep them in their place. In essence they became elephant thugs as teenagers and adults, going on rhino killing sprees, a behavior that up until that point had never been documented. This was culling at its worst.

What is the Future of Culling?

In the old days culling almost always meant to kill an animal. In fact when breeders started to concentrate on dog and cat breeds some would kill kittens and puppies that had an undesirable trait that didn't fit breed standard - perhaps a white spot or a floppy ear. These days our attitudes have softened and few vets are willing to put down perfectly health animals and breeders themselves are usually fine with selling "pet-quality" animals as household companions for people that were never going to breed them in the first place. Zoos are practicing what I like to call partial culling when they give their primates contraceptives. This allows them to live in normal male-female groups without the added expense of many unplanned babies. When the zoo does want them to have babies the contraceptives can be removed from their diet and the animals may resume a reproductive life. This is the same concept of catch and release programs set up for feral cats. In the old days feral cats were killed because no one wanted them as pets and they were having kittens everywhere. Today volunteers often catch these cats, spay or neuter them, and then release them back in the area. There are benefits for this - first they can't over populate anymore and secondly since there are already established cats on that territory new ones won't come into an area in large numbers like they would if it were devoid of other felines. Over time these cats will die off slowly, their numbers will go down, and with any luck the problem could be solved for a while. This is important because ferals do a lot of damage to wildlife and are often a nuisance to people as well. This is not to mention they endanger pet cats they meet by giving them diseases they've caught from being in such a large population. In the end I think this gentler method of culling will become the most common method used on domestic and maybe even certain wild animals. All and all this is not a bad thing.

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    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      3 years ago from New England

      You are entitled to your opinion but had proper culling (in this case spaying and neutering) been done then most of those dogs would not exist in the first place. Just look at New England where fixing your animals is such a social norm that our shelters *import dogs from the deep south* just so they have dogs to adopt out! This is not a pure-breed vs mutt issue. Your comment makes me believe you didn't read the article because, again, culling does NOT always means killing. One would hope in this day and age that would mean for a dog to go to a pet home.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I know lots of breeders who cull puppies and then they talk about it on Facebook or whatnot like it's no big deal, makes me sick! Like "oh yeah, had to cull two in my last litter, wasn't a good litter for me, trying to breed my bitch again as soon as possible." I will never buy a purebred dog in my life, I don't see the point buying a dog when there are millions of healthy dogs in shelters just waiting to be adopted.

    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      4 years ago from New England

      That's not true at all.... Culling is a valuable practice to any breeder and factory farms often don't cull which is a problem I will explain in a second. In chickens roosters hatch out of 50% of the eggs. That many roosters would be devastating to the social dynamics of a flock so in a small setting breeders will have to only pick the best roosters to use. In a large hatchery setting the practice usually does not involve any sort of quality control. When breeders are needed eggs are hatched and without judging the roosters or the hens they are thrown into a big old barn, usually 5 hens per rooster, where only the meanest roosters are able to breed via force and fighting with other roosters. This is not good for the hens and really not good for passing on desirable characteristics! Here on our farm any rooster who shows these aggressive qualities towards the hens or towards people get eaten - culled. This encourages natural behavior - asking the hen's permission, so to speak, giving them treats, protecting them, and doing a mating dance for them. This leaves docile roosters who pass on their docile personalities. And even the hens should not be just bred, they too should be thoroughly checked out - Do they have any health conditions they could pass on? Do they have any deformities? Do they have difficulty laying eggs? Do they have a bad temperament? Do they lay enough eggs or carry enough meat on them? Do they go broody? All these need to be put into consideration and in the end a chicken breeder may find as little as 10% of their flock gets to be considered breeding quality. This is no different than in other animals on the farm who also tend to be born at a 50-50% ratio of male to female.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Culling would be almost unheard of without factory farms. They are used as breeding machines and are treated to the slaughter. What is the world coming to?

    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      6 years ago from New England

      Culling is a very effective tool for all sorts of things. People should know this before making judgement on the practice.

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 

      6 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      I never thought of different meanings for culling. I have always thought of culling as a way to control wild herds of animals. Or, the harvesting or domestic animals.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good info!

      I read a Doberman Book a while a go, when the breed was still a fairly new breed, they would sometimes kill entire litters!

    • annstaub profile image


      7 years ago from Round Rock, TX

      Good information. Had not heard of this before.

    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      7 years ago from New England

      Thank you stclairjack

    • stclairjack profile image


      7 years ago from middle of freekin nowhere,... the sticks

      voted up


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