If you can handle the increased management and facilities needed, early weaning calves can be a sound idea.
“One of the critical things about this time of year, as cows are nursing calves, is to watch the body condition of our cows very carefully,” Dr. Tom Troxel, University of Arkansas Extension animal scientists told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “If you start to see the body condition of cows start to drop off, early weaning is a practice that beef cow producers may want to consider.”
This means taking the calves off their mothers at 3 to 5 months of age instead of the more typical 8 months. With its research herds at the Batesville Experiment Station, UA prefers the technique of fenceline weaning. “It caused much less stress on the calves than abrupt weaning,” Troxel said. “We’ve not had any sickness of the calves; we’ve had no respiratory disease concerns, and we’ve not lost any calves due to the fenceline weaning. The cows and calves are able to see one another, and over a three to four day period they just automatically wean from each other.”
Early weaning takes the stress of lactation off the cows and helps them maintain or rebuild body condition in time for the next breeding season. Troxel said the preferred body condition score (BCS) for a spring calving herd at calving time should be around 6.0, where the ribs, backbones, and hooks and pins are not showing.
University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Dr. Patrick Davis said early weaning can reduce the cow’s forage consumption by as much as 50 percent; even in a year when grass remains lush into the fall, the producer can benefit from early weaning by increasing the stocking rate. “One disadvantage is that if you are retaining early weaned calves and not selling directly, you will need extra facilities to manage the calves and feed them concentrate.”
Davis said research from the USDA’s Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Lab at Miles City, Mont., shows early weaned cows conceived on average seven days earlier than their cohorts, and were 122 pounds heavier than non-early weaned cows at traditional weaning time. Other studies have shown calves weaned early have an improved feed efficiency and similar yield grades as conventionally weaned calves and, if vaccinated one month prior to weaning and again at 6 months of age, are healthier throughout the feeding period.
Early weaning is a more labor intensive system. In addition to the extra facilities needed to capture the economic return from early weaned calves, Davis said, you will need to retain ownership to slaughter. “When figuring out if this is a strategy that you want to use in your cattle operation, you need to consult a veterinarian to determine proper health protocol that these calves should undergo,” he said. “This strategy is not for everyone, so the cattle producer needs to weigh advantages and disadvantages and see if early weaning is best for their cattle operation than conventionally-weaned calves.”
Troxel said early weaned calves may benefit from a starter ration mixed with a very sweet feed like a corn/soybean hull ration that’s very high in roughage. “You can keep those calves, put them on a ration and get 1.75 pounds/day gain on them,” he said. “A lot of times, we’ll see an uptick in the market between November and Christmas and producers might want to keep their calves until that point in time, but it really all depends upon their forage base. If they plan to plant a winter annual, the calves will gain quite well on it. A lot of producers might want to graze those calves through the winter and sell in a March market; that may work very well in their favor, too.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here