Jeremy Martin, PhD, Great Plains Livestock Consulting, Inc., offers the following suggestions for managing the weaning phase to improve profitability, quality of life, and reduce morbidity and mortality in calves. Research has proven time and again that getting calves off to a good start pays big dividends throughout their lifetime.

The first step to getting calves started correctly is to have a plan.

  • You should know what feed ingredients you will have on hand prior to receiving cattle and what you may need to purchase.
  • They should be mixed for receiving and starting cattle. Being adequately prepared to receive cattle is the first step that must be successfully completed.
  • Discuss receiving strategies and intake targets with the feedyard’s nutritionist so you can monitor performance of incoming cattle.

Receiving rations
Aside from being highly palatable, receiving rations should be nutrient dense since intakes will likely be low during the first few days, particularly on bawling calves.

  • Rations for incoming cattle should generally be at least 14.5% crude protein, 40% moisture or less, and 35 to 65% roughage.
  • Fermented forages should be introduced slowly, after the calves are readily coming to the bunk.
  • We recommend receiving cattle with high quality grass hay in the bunk, and top-dressing 5 lbs of dry matter of starter ration over the hay 4-12 hours later.
  • Within 3- 4 days, the hay should be completely replaced by the starter ration.
  • Nutrient intake is a direct function of dry matter intake, so achieving target dry matter intakes is essential for keeping cattle healthy and getting adequate protein and energy into them.

In the front of all GPLC ration books are intake guidelines for cattle of different sizes. Healthy, fresh calves should achieve the target intake within 7 to 10 days of receiving. High-risk cattle with inherent health issues may take substantially longer to achieve target intakes. There may be some benefit in limiting high stress cattle to 80% of the target intake so sick cattle can more easily be identified.

For more information on weaning and receiving feeding strategies, click here.