Putting on the Pounds
Cattle producers strive to produce the best quality animals possible to achieve the best market value. One way to achieve this is by raising the weaning weights of calves.
There are numerous ways to do this, some of which require a bit more forethought than others; whatever method, producers need to bear in mind that raising weights will raise operating costs, so keep accurate notes on the subject.
“The good record keeper can determine if the extra cost translates into greater returns,” Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension Livestock specialist, said.
Consider the Season
One of the longer term options for increasing the weaning weight of calves is to be conscientious about the season selected for calving.
Calves born in the spring tend to be heavier come weaning season.
“In Southwest Missouri, our growthiest calves tend to be born in January to early March, or in September and October if you prefer calving in the fall,” noted Cole. “Regardless of which season you prefer, calves born early tend to out gain their younger herd mates. A possible reason is they have less sickness. This difference may be minimized by following a strict rotational system during the calving season so the late-born calves aren’t exposed to intestinal and respiratory diseases.”
Watch for Illness
Illness can be overwhelming to a herd. When it comes to calves, illness can really take a toll on weaning weights. Scours and pinkeye can be two of the largest issues to a calf crop. The diarrhea associated with scours prevents fluids from being absorbed from the intestines, and can cause severe dehydration and weight loss.
“At this time of the year, pinkeye can be devastating to a calf’s weight gain. Therefore, watch for the very earliest signs and treat promptly and isolate the affected calves from the healthy ones if at all possible,” Cole said.
Look at Genetics
While another long term option, culling for and breeding for the best genetics can help raise your weaning weights as well.
“Genetic improvement comes slowly and involves choosing sires or semen. If using artificial insemination, the bull should possess growth with high, (0.8 accuracy) or better. Some may even select a different breed of bull to use,” Cole explained.
The cows, of course, play their role.
“Don’t forget to consider the dam’s genetic makeup as their milk and growth genetics have a lot to do with their offspring’s weaning weight,” Cole said. “I highly recommend calves be weighed individually at around 6 to 8 months and have an adjusted 205-day weaning weight computed each year. This process pinpoints the cows that consistently wean big calves. Culling the low end helps boost the herd’s average weaning weight over time.”
Feed and Implant
For quicker weight gain, start feeding some more groceries. Eldon suggests implementing a creep feed ration, and providing access to high quality pasture or good alfalfa hay.
Another option is growth implants for speedy weight gain. “Growth promotants are good for 75 to 100 days, unless you use a longer term product. If you don’t intend to keep them after weaning use the less expensive implant,” Cole suggested. “Implants usually boost weaning weight by around 20 pounds in that time frame. Do not implant heifers or bulls you know will be kept for breeding. Implants are more effective when gains are over 1.5 pounds per day.”