Fenceline: June 21, 2012
Meadowlark Extension Agent
Livestock & Natural Resources
Early weaning beef calves is one drought management strategy. Research suggests spring-born calves consume significant amounts of native range forage at 45 days of age. Weaning beef calves as early as 45 days of age is early enough to encourage the cows to cycle and rebreed.
Weaning calves this early is used as a “last resort” management strategy when cows are thin prior to management strategy included in a drought plan. Weaning calves at 3 to 5 months of age may also be a viable alternative if forages are scarce in the latter part of the grazing season.
There are a number of items to consider prior to early weaning calves. Calves can adapt quickly to the change in environment and diet if a management plan has been carefully developed. Regardless of weaning age, calves that start eating dry feed immediately after separation from their dam have fewer incidences of morbidity and mortality than calves that do not eat for 24 to 48 hours after separation.
Bunk and waterer height needs to accommodate the smaller calf. Offering a creep feed three to four weeks prior to weaning will help calves adjust to eating processed feeds and make the weaning transition period less stressful. Using creep feeding in this manner will bunk break the calves and will teach them to eat.
Early weaning the calf significantly reduces the nutrient demands placed on the cow and more closely matches her requirements to nutrients supplied under drought or poor range conditions. Spring calving cows need to be in adequate body condition (BCS 5) prior to calving. Removing the calf early helps to improve body condition which has the potential to carry-over through the winter causing increased body condition at calving that is also evident during the next breeding season.
Early weaning of calves from 2-year-old, first-calf-females reduces the stress of nursing and raising a calf. As a result, these females will be in better body condition at calving that should result in cows that cycle and breed back earlier in the breeding season.
For heifers bred for higher milk production, early weaning takes on greater importance. The greater the milk output, the greater the nutrient demands, the more difficult it is to keep young females in adequate body condition on a limited forage base, and the subsequent impact on reproduction.
Weaning calves before the start of the breeding season or early in the breeding season is not a common management strategy.
Again, it is usually considered a last-resort effort to correct a management problem that is usually related to inadequate nutrition prior to and after parturition. Reducing nutrient requirements of the dam associated with lactation and eliminating the suckling stimulus has the potential to allow non-cyclic, thin cows to resume estrous cycles and become pregnant.
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