If you’re in the cattle business, drought is a bad word but sooner or later the occurrence of drought is likely going to be reality. A good portion of cow-calf producing regions in the U.S. and Canada are in areas that may experience dry conditions more years than not. So, preparations for dry years and their consequences need to be understood. This article is not necessarily about drought, but of early weaning of beef calves; one of many drought management strategies.
It’s about Cow Body condition & Reproductive Efficiency
Normally calves are weaned around 6-7 months of age with 205 days being a common benchmark weaning point. Early weaning would be considered anytime earlier than normal and is usually to help the dam more so than the calf, especially in drought years. Nutrient demands for protein and energy are at their peak in a cow’s production cycle during lactation. Couple this with drought and decreasing forage quality and quantity and cow body condition will suffer. When condition suffers during the breeding season or just prior, reproductive efficiency will suffer as well. So, one main benefit of early weaning s is a reduced nutrient demand on the cow that will help maintain condition and have cows return to estrus in a timely fashion.
When’s the Right Age?
Minimum age to wean a calf is about 40 days of age (roughly 6 weeks). This may sound pretty young but is a common age to wean calves such as those that are fed milk replacers (bucket calves and/or dairy calves). Weaning at an age range of 60-100 days coincides with the time frame when cows should return to estrus and breed back to maintain a one year calving interval. In cows that are too thin to cycle, early weaning removes the udder stimuli of nursing which can cause hormonal changes in the cow that can help induce estrus in thinner cows. Again, it may or may not be necessary to wean this early but Body Condition Score along with gauging the feed resource are the key governances in making a decision to early wean.
Early weaned calves require additional management and feed. This will require increased cash cost as higher quality feeds and supplement will be required and certain management considerations may be needed such as more pen space to sort smaller calves from larger ones. However, in the long term, early weaned calves can be expected to weigh as much or more as calves weaned around 200 days of age. In fact, calves that are not early weaned in situations that would justify the practice are at a disadvantage. They have to compete with the cows for a limited forage base and are nursing cows that may be losing body condition.
Just as in any “normal” weaning program, the first two weeks are critical. Calves need to have a highly palatable ration and begin eating ASAP in order to overcome the stress of weaning. Calves that are vaccinated prior to weaning, and that have been offered creep feed ahead of time will handle weaning stress better. Also, feeding CRYSTALYX® Brigade® supplement in pens at weaning is very advantageous in helping calves to start consuming feed. Numerous demonstrations and producer citations of this practice have proved that weaned calves offered Brigade® at weaning eat more feed, are more feed efficient, have less sickness and health costs, and less death loss than herd mates not offered Brigade® at weaning.
For more information on early weaning, contact your University extension service as many good publications exist on Early Weaning strategies and tips. More information on Brigade® and other CRYSTALYX® programs and feeding in drought situations can be found at www.crystalyx.com