Early weaning during drought

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Source: Midwestern Cattle Marketing, LLC

In a traditional sense, calves are weaned at six to seven months of age. However, during a drought, forage is generally limiting and early weaning should be a consideration as a management tool for a producer. The time of weaning will have effects on the cow and the calf in performance, health, and productivity in the pasture.

Like everything in the cattle business there are advantages and disadvantages to early weaning.

Four distinct advantages would be improved cow body condition, calf performance, conception rates and forage availability for the cow.

Lactating cows can lose body condition due to the increased nutrient requirements associated with lactation. When drought conditions exist, this situation is usually made worse by lack of forage in drought stressed pastures. By weaning early, the cow’s nutrient requirements for lactation are eliminated and cows are able to maintain or increase body condition prior to the fall and winter feeding period.

By weaning early and providing a highly nutritious diet, calves can reach their growth potential.

Early weaning, coupled with feeding a high concentrate diet, has resulted in increased quality grade a slaughter, and according to research conducted at several universities.

Weaning early can result in improved conception rates, provided the calves are weaned during the breeding season,” said Greg Lardy, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist NDSU Animal and Range Sciences Department. “This would require weaning calves at a very young age. When weaned early enough, cows have a greater opportunity to rebreed in an optimum time frame and an increase in conception rate can be expected.”

Lardy also explains that early weaning reduces the cows dry matter intake and also eliminates the demand on the forage from the calf.

“The cows remaining on the pasture have access to more forage and demands on the pasture are reduced, which can enhance sustainability and forage production in the future,” states Lardy.

Two disadvantages of early weaning claves would be increased attention to management, and increased cash costs.

Russ Danielson, the Associate Professor NDSU Animal and Range Sciences Department states, “Early weaning requires greater attention to proper health, nutrition, and management practices.”

Weaning calves earlier will result in increased cash costs for the rancher because instead of being in the pasture and their mother’s milk, the calves will be eating high quality grains, hays, and protein supplements that is if the rancher can provide these economically.

In this day and time, cattle prices are so high that the rancher might to decide to wean calves then take them immediately to the sale barn, for a profit margin that is beyond anything ranchers have ever seen.

Some special health recommendations should be considered when early weaning claves; producers must provide an excellent health and vaccination program.

Producers should castrate, dehorn and brand calves 10 to 14 days prior to weaning.

Producers should also make sure to vaccinate for clostridial and viral infections, and monitoring calves daily for symptoms of respiratory disease, digestive diseases, scours and abnormalities in feed intake levels.

Early weaning should be utilized as a management option, especially during drought and should be a part of every producer’s normal drought management strategy.

Early weaning will be more successful for the producers and less stressful on the calves when adequate attention to nutrition, health and management is considered to be a top priority.

Callie McCullough is a junior at Texas A&M University pursuing a dual degree in animal science and agricultural communications. She’s a fifth generation rancher from Ridge, Texas. Born and raised on the family cow-calf operation, she is an avid cattle enthusiast and has a passion for the production cattle industry and its future. cmccullough@tamu.edu

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