Drought and limited forage availability are the most common reasons for early weaning beef calves. The traditional weaning age for spring-calving beef herds is 6 to 7 months. Age of early-weaned beef calves can range, but most times early weaning is 3 to 5 months old.

Meteer travis
Beef Extension Educator / University of Illinois

Tip 1: Ensure calves have adequate rumen development before weaning

Young calves primarily rely on milk for nutrition. Thus, if weaning early, exposure to feed can help develop the rumen. Introducing calves to a balanced, formulated creep feed can aid in rumen function and help them build nutritional status prior to the stress of weaning. This also familiarizes calves with feedbunks and the behavior of getting feed from somewhere besides milk or grass.

Tip 2: Provide palatable, nutrient-dense feeds that are familiar

Feed needs to be high-quality, palatable, dense and free from molds or toxins. Fermented feeds are not recommended. The odor and higher moisture content can decrease dry matter intake (DMI). Include ionophores along with fortified, highly available vitamins and minerals. If the mineral is not mixed into the feed ration, monitor consumption closely. Utilizing lick tubs is a tool but not a replacement for a good mineral supplement. Lick tubs can boost saliva production, which naturally buffers the rumen. Multiple feedings per day may also be beneficial to achieving intake goals. Work with your nutritionist to formulate rations that reduce risk of acidosis, achieve DMI targets and include feed additives that benefit higher-risk calves.

Tip 3: Calves must be able to reach, easily access feed and water

Facilities and pens need to be equipped with a water source calves know and can reach. Waterers that are too high to reach, or waterers with balls that need to be suppressed to access water can be an issue. Floats need to be set appropriately so animals can reach water levels. Also, consider shade needs and strategies to reduce dust or mud.

Tip 4: Administer vaccines, castration and dehorning before weaning to avoid a wreck

A collision with other stressors such as castration and dehorning will inevitably increase morbidity and mortality. So schedule castration, dehorning and vaccinations with time to allow the animal to recover from these stressors before weaning. Be very strict with health monitoring at and after weaning. Have preestablished treatment protocols for ill cattle. Consult your veterinarian and develop a health program prior to early weaning.


Early weaning must be well planned. Utilize your team to critique your nutrition, health and facilities prior to early weaning.