Early weaning is one practical management alternative that can be used to stretch your present forage supply and still return a profit.  Dry cows are pretty easy to manage; however, increased management is required to successfully wean calves earlier.

Some advantages from the standpoint of calf performance are improved efficiency of gain and improved quality grade.  When available forage is in short supply, calves might not be able to compete with cows resulting in less than satisfactory performance.  By removing that competition and providing calves with a higher quality diet, calves can more easily reach their growth potential.  Research has demonstrated that early weaning and feeding a high concentrate diet has resulted in increased quality grades at harvest.  These advantages require that the calves receive higher quality feed to meet the desired gain, which will normally involve more labor, facilities and feed.

One of the disadvantages is the increased cost of potential non-forage feedstuffs.  Beef cow/calf producers enjoy the benefit of using pasture/range/forage plus mother’s milk to raise calves.  When weaning early, calves will eat high quality grains, hays, and purchased feeds.  However, if calves are not gaining because of limited milk and forage supply, it might be cost effective to supply calves with other feeds.

Planning ahead prior to weaning early allows for a successful program.  Here are some factors to consider prior to the weaning day:  1) Complete castration, dehorning and branding at least 10-14 days prior to weaning (most producers complete this in the spring). 2) Vaccinate calves – visit with your local veterinarian about the best vaccination program for your operation.  3) Decide the destination of calves – such as selling calves straight off the cow, backgrounding or retained ownership to harvest. 4) Consider adapting calves to creep feed prior to early weaning to aid in starting calves on feed. 5) If calves are placed on a self-feeder with high quality forage, use an intake limiter in the self-feeder to prevent over consumption of grain.

There are several options for management of the weaned calves: 1) selling calves at weaning, 2) feeding calving in a drylot setting, 3) utilizing grazing resources with or without supplemental feed.  The management of the calves will depend on your facilities as well as the available labor force.  Selling the calves directly off the cow should include identifying buyers who are seeking to purchase younger calves.

The bottom-line is for you to determine if early weaning is the correct management decision based on their production system.  Your consideration should include your available forage base, animal needs and financial implications.

Source: Julie Walker