Fall is here, which means weaning time is upon us. Weaning can be stressful for both calves and producers. The actual weaning period offers some unique challenges that can lead to poor calf performance and negatively affect calf value. However, healthy calves are the initial step toward a profitable cow herd, and a well-designed weaning program can be a lucrative management tool. Since weaning management is so critical to our bottom line, here are a couple of considerations to help set us up for success.
1. Consider proper vaccination procedures: Healthy calves are key to a successful weaning program. Vaccination protocols and timing vary from ranch to ranch. Regardless, implementing some basic vaccine-handling safeguards can help ensure protocol efficacy.
First, always follow label instructions. Make sure to purchase new vaccine and keep vaccines and syringes stored in a cooler (i.e., avoid sunlight and heat) while working cattle. If using a modified-live vaccine, mix as needed. Vaccine effectiveness begins to diminish after an hour. Consider using a subcutaneous route when possible and change needles frequently (i.e., every 10 to 15 injections).
2. Consider post-weaning nutrition: Good nutritional management (i.e., intake) during this period is vital to maintain calf health and performance. Calves will likely experience low feed and water intake for several days post-weaning. Start by providing access to good-quality forage to maintain proper rumen function.
Since intake is reduced, it is recommended to supply calves with a supplemental protein source (i.e., diet containing sources such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal or alfalfa) and complete mineral (macro and trace minerals). Consider limit feeding twice a day for the first two to three weeks to allow for better surveillance of feeding behavior and overall management of the calves.
3. Consider close observation and early treatment: An effective weaning program will factor in time to closely monitor calves to observe changes in health and condition. Consider walking through calves a few times a day for the first two to three weeks post-weaning. It is important to recognize sick calves early and treat them immediately.
Calves with poor appetites, droopy ears, runny eyes and nose should be pulled, further evaluated (i.e., temperature over 103.5 degrees) and treated if necessary. The goal of maximizing calf performance is the common link among each consideration. Overcoming the challenges associated with weaning time requires increased management. However, healthier calves lead to increased productivity and profitability.