Multiple factors contribute to calf growth and development

When building a nutritional program, beef producers should focus on four things. They must understand animal nutrition requirements, the stress periods that can result in nutrient deficiencies, sustainable agriculture measures, and supplemental practice for nutritional shortages. Many ranchers focus their efforts on building better beef around two different components, nutrition and weaning.

There are several factors to consider regarding weaning time for calves. In a survey conducted by The National Health and Monitoring System, one specified area of interest was determining the management factors ranchers considered when weaning calves. The number one factor producers utilized for appropriate weaning was calf age and weight, indicated by 54 percent. The other factors that were included were tradition, physical condition of the cow and forage availability.

Management decisions are dictated by several different factors, including the additional expense of feeding larger cows, the lack of efficiency that can often develop, the stage of production, the quality of the forage, and many others. Just as an automobile requires fuel to function, a beef animal requires energy for grazing, body maintenance, reproduction, lactation, and many other functions; the primary source of energy for the grazing beef cow is cellulose found in forages. Fescue is the most popular forage in the Ozarks.

One of the problems with fescue is a toxicity that can actually decrease animal performance and possibly, cause abortions and decreased milk production. Many people are unfamiliar with fescue toxicity but signs of rough hair coat, soreness in rear feet, loss of tail switch, and decreased appetite are all important to watch for.

Other important factors to consider include genetics, breed, dam age and environment. “One should never single trait select and bigger is not always better,” Dr. Beth Walker, Missouri State University associate professor of agriculture, said. “Size at weaning is positively correlated to birth weights, so if we are only selecting for weaning weighs, we will end up getting large calves at birth which may lead to dystocia (or difficult birth).”

Large calves may also create additional issues beyond dystocia.

“Large calves are going to demand more milk from their moms which can negatively affect the dam as she tries to produce more milk,” Walker explained. “As she produces more milk, she may lose condition and end up open.”

Changes in energy and protein requirements follow the physiological patterns of pregnancy and lactation. Throughout early lactation, ranchers need to be investing an ample amount of nutrients into their cows. The interval between calving and rebreeding, plus lactation for a calf, is one of the time periods where nutrient values are drastically increased. It’s also important to select a feed ration that contains potassium chloride, which will help keep calves and hydrated and also increase taste and palatability of feed.

Another important consideration when building bigger calves is expected progeny differences. EPDs are beneficial when seeking to produce a specific gene in the pedigree of your herd. There isn’t a cookie-cutter recipe for what producers needs to consider in EPDs before purchasing an animal.

“I think it all depends upon the producers management decisions,” Walker explained. “There isn’t one simple answer or golden egg. One must have a business plan in place and know their expenses and how each cow is going to pay her way.”


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