Written by Meg Johnson, OFN ContributorIn order to have a profitable herd, producer's need to consider several things when it comes to weaning their calves. When to wean, nutrition, health, what weaning method, and post-weaning management are all very important aspects of the weaning process to consider.
The first thing producers need to consider is when to wean the calf. This decision is not an easy one to make, however, and is influenced by many factors such as: “loss of dam, forage resources and cow body condition, sale time and other ranch activities,” wrote Shelly Filley, Regional Livestock and Forage Specialist for Oregon State University, in her article, “Weaning Beef Calves.” She explained that simply, “Calves can be weaned any time after their rumens become functional, that is, when their digestive system can process whole feeds.” Typically, “Bottle-fed calves can be weaned after one month of age, while calves nursing cows are weaned between three and eight months of age. It is usually best to wean at the older age,” wrote Filley.
G.I. Crawford from the University of Minnesota Extension, explains in his article, “Calf Weaning Management,” that “calves can likely be weaned as early as 45 days, but waiting until at least 60 days will allow for much greater rumen development.” Both Filley and Crawford mention that early weaning strategies have become very popular in areas where forage is in short supply. Filley explained that “this preserves cow energy reserves to allow for development of the new calf inside her and keep her in good shape for timely re-breeding after that calf is born. Studies have shown, that in times of forage shortages, it can be economical to wean calves early.”
The second thing that producers need to consider is the nutrition and health of the calves. Crawford suggested that health and nutrition are the most important aspects “of any weaning system. He explained, “Recently weaned calves are at a point in their life in which they are extremely efficient at converting feed into live weight gain.” Filley suggested that producer's should provide diets that are appropriate for the age of calf, including forage quantity and quality, and contains a vitamin/mineral mix and plenty of fresh, accessible water.
Choosing a method of weaning, is another consideration that producers need to make. Both Filley and Crawford outline several methods of weaning such as traditional, truck, pasture, fenceline and two-step weaning. Filley warned, however, that with whatever process of weaning producers choose, “make sure you address nutrition and health measures. Total separation weaning can be accomplished with good success if pre-weaning and post-weaning management addresses stress, health and nutritional management sufficiently.”
Finally, post-weaning management is another important component of the weaning process. Crawford explained that “young, recently weaned calves are in perhaps the most efficient stage of their lives.” He suggested taking advantage of this and, as he wrote, it is at this time that highly efficient weight gains can be put on these calves. He also explained “creep fed calves can be started on a ration higher in energy than calves that were not creep-fed. The amount of energy included in the starting ration will depend on the age and size of the weaned calf.”
The decision on how to wean calves is ultimately up to the producer. The amount of labor, the facilities available and the overall condition of the herd, all go into making the best decision to have the most profitable farm.
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