Persistent Drought May Force Early Calf Weaning

Extension specialist says calves can be successfully weaned at 45 days with careful planning, which helps reduce nutrient requirements during drought.

Published on: Jul 5, 2013

As persistent exceptional drought continues to plague almost the entire western half of the state, many ranchers are faced with tough decisions about cow herd retention and management of calves, which many need to be weaned early.

Writing for the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas State University extension beef specialist Larry Hollis assures ranchers that while weaning is traditionally done between 90 and 180 days, calves can be successfully weaned as early as 45 days.

This is important for ranchers because the nutrient requirements for the mama cow drop dramatically when the calf is weaned, reducing the amount of available forage necessary to maintain the herd.

While weaning is usually done between 90 and 180 days, calves can be successfully weaned as early as 45 days, which reduces nutrient requirements for cows.
While weaning is usually done between 90 and 180 days, calves can be successfully weaned as early as 45 days, which reduces nutrient requirements for cows.

The success of extra-early weaning hinges on starting early to prepare for it, Hollis says and should be done with an eye to how the weaned calves will be managed.

Things to consider

Ranchers must decide if the calves will be sent immediately to sale barn, held back for replacements, or pre-conditioned to fit a value-added market program. Some of those decisions have to made based on what high qualify feedstuffs are available for young calves.

If calves will leave the farm, they likely will be a better price if they have already been castrated and de-horned, but those procedures should be completed well ahead of weaning for minimum stress. Calves feed distillers grains or creep feeds seem to adapt to life after weaning more quickly, Hollis says.

Vaccination for respiratory diseases work best if a first dose is given prior to weaning and a second dose is administered at weaning,

Deworming is most effective done 30 days before weaning, he said, and the calves do better with soft weaning methods such as fenceline or nose-clip weaning.

If feed is available, Hollis recommends keeping the calves on dry feed for 45 days after weaning before selling them.  Clean water and the use of feedbunks that small calves can easily reach are critical, he says.

Source: Kansas Livestock Association