Health management of early-weaned calves

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With the continued drought affecting many parts of Kansas, early weaning is one option that may help producers use limited forage resources more efficiently and keep all, or part, of their cowherd together for another year. As soon as a calf is weaned, the nutrient requirements of the lactating adult animal drop tremendously. Early weaning is most commonly done between 90 and 180 days of age. However, because the functional capability of the calf’s rumen begins developing within a few weeks after birth as they begin consuming available forages alongside their mothers, weaning as early as 45 days of age is possible. In any case, start planning ahead to prepare the calf for the early-weaning event.

Preparations should be based upon what the producer plans to do with the calf following weaning. Are the calves going to be weaned in the back of the truck on the way to the sale barn? Is a portion of the heifer or bull calves going to be developed as replacements? Are feeder calves going to be pre-conditioned to fit a value-added market? What high-quality feedstuffs are available to feed the calves before, during and after weaning? Answers to these questions need to be determined first to make the most physically attainable and economically sensible decisions.

 

If the calves are going to leave the farm or ranch at weaning, there normally is a greater demand and price for calves that have been castrated and de-horned. These procedures should be completed well ahead of weaning. Also, calves that have been exposed to feedstuffs like distillers’ grains or creep feeds prior to weaning adapt more quickly to life without Mother. Vaccination to prevent respiratory diseases calves may encounter during, or shortly after, weaning have the best chance to work if the first dose is given prior to weaning and the second dose given at weaning. Recovering the price of deworming is best done if the product is given 30 days prior to weaning. Use of a soft-weaning method, like fence line or nose-clip weaning, helps reduce health problems. If feedstuffs are available, holding the calves on dry feed for an additional 45 days post-weaning also helps add value. Other items like the availability of clean water and the use of waterers and feedbunks small calves can reach are critical.

With adequate planning, early weaning can be accomplished easily and effectively.

 

Source: Larry Hollis, extension beef veterinarian



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