While many producers took the early weaning route, management of newly weaned calves is essential to their future success in the feedlot or cow herd.
While there seem to be unlimited options of weaning methods, we all want the same thing: to reduce the bawling of the newly weaned calves. Minimizing calf stress is key to enhancing productivity, welfare and profitability.
While the weaning process may seem like a one-time, short-duration event, it is comprised of multiple components, all with their own potential stressors. How a calf responds to the weaning process very well may dictate the long-term productivity of that animal.
A successful weaning program that minimizes calf setbacks begins well in advance of the physical separation between the dam and the offspring. Given the added stress associated with production practices including castration, dehorning and branding, these procedures should be carried out well in advance of, or 30 days after, weaning.
Furthermore, as immunity is impaired at times of stress, administration of vaccines should be conducted three to four weeks in advance of weaning.
Regardless of the chosen weaning program any given year, one aspect often overlooked is the surrounding environment. The ability to keep calves in a familiar paddock or pasture where they are acquainted with water and feedbunk locations mitigates stress significantly. Thus, removal of cows from calves is often less stressful than removing calves from cows.
Weaning season is also a great time to evaluate the cow herd and critique individual females for not pulling their weight. Critically assess udder quality, temperament and structure of cows. Dams of the tail-enders of the calf crop should be the first to be analyzed.
In addition, now is a great time to evaluate body condition score to determine fall and winter nutritional programs to get cows back into shape. Keep in mind you need to actually utilize the data you collect, even if that means you need to sell some cows.
If you have questions on tailoring a weaning program to your individual operation or managing weaned calves, consult with your nutritionist, veterinarian or local beef extension specialist.
- Extension Beef Program Specialist
- Iowa Beef Center - Iowa State University
- Email Erika Lundy