Early Weaning Works

Cattlelink - Early Weaning Works

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Drought may be a regional and seasonal problem, but one management practice that works for any operation when it comes time to safeguard future forages is early weaning. Justin Waggoner, a Kansas State University (KSU) beef systems specialist, says a misconception producers have about early weaning is that lightweight calves are at higher risk of disease and are low performers in the feedlot. But, KSU research shows average daily gains (ADGs) at the feedlot for calves weaned at 100 to 160 days are 1.5 to 2 pounds per head.

When it comes to health, A.J. Tarpoff, KSU Extension beef veterinarian, notes calves are born completely naive in terms of immune function. Their own immune systems take over, and maternal antibodies decline by 2 to 4 months of age. They begin to have full immune function by 5 to 8 months of age. He says reliable responses to vaccines are seen in calves at 2 to 4 months old. In some cases, 1 month of age. "Work with your local veterinarian for recommendations," Tarpoff adds. He notes the biggest concern for these calves is bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and advises producers to vaccinate against BRD as well as clostridial diseases, respiratory viruses and respiratory bacteria. In addition, a tetanus vaccine is recommended.

Early weaning also has a twofold positive effect on grazing management. Calves are removed from pastures, and cows are not lactating, thereby dropping their forage needs dramatically. KSU studies show a 120-day-old 450-pound calf eats almost 7 pounds of dry forage a day. Its lactating dam (1,400 pounds) consumes 30 pounds of dry forage daily. That cow dry eats 27.3 pounds of dry forage a day.

"Every four days that a calf is not grazing is one grazing day for the cow," Waggoner says. "If you do the math, weaning even 30 days early allows for one more week of grazing."

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