Many Oklahoma spring born calves have already been weaned and marketed due to drought conditions. Those calves that will be weaned at the more traditional time of late October/early November need a balanced and palatable diet to begin to eat on their own. A minimum of a 45-day weaning period is recommended to maximize the benefits of pre-conditioning. Many of the value-added calf (VAC-45) programs require a minimum 45 day weaning period before marketing. A balanced nutrition program during this period is critical to ensure profitability for the cow/calf producer and maximum immune system function during the stressful weaning period and later production phases.
Calves targeted for a VAC-45 sale (i.e. Oklahoma Quality Beef Network) should gain 1.5 to 2 pounds per head per day from weaning to marketing to greatly enhance the likelihood of profitability of the pre-conditioning program. Research has repeatedly shown that calves that begin eating soon after shipping or weaning will have reduced health issues and certainly gain weight more quickly and consistently. Low stress “fenceline weaning” has been shown to help calves start to eat sooner and begin weight gain more quickly than calves that are weaned away from the cows.
Providing a high quality ration that meets the nutritional needs of the young calves can be accomplished in a number a ways. In 2011, pasture options will be limited, if not totally unavailable, therefore bunk-fed rations will be required in many operations this year. Producers should download a copy of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact sheet ANSI-3031 to obtain several rations to be mixed for weaned calves. Rations are available for very young, lightweight calves as well as for 7 to 8 month old traditional 400 – 600 pound weaned calves. Some rations will include by-product feeds such as wheat-mids and dried corn distillers grains if these are available at a competitive price. The Fact sheet will also discuss other management tips for early weaning, traditional weaning, and receiving shipped-in stocker calves. The URL for this important fact sheet is http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-1957/ANSI-3031web.pdf.