It’s that time of year when most spring calving herds are planning their weaning schedules. Cow-calf producers contemplate weaning strategies like fence-line or dry-lot weaning, etc. Feed inventories, vaccine ordering, vaccination scheduling and other tasks accompany the annual celebration. By celebration, I mean the vocalization you enjoy along with your neighbors if they are in earshot of your cow herd.
One question I generally receive is “how long should I have my calves weaned before the sale?” That’s an excellent question. Some like to wean in the trailer on the way to the sale barn, others like 30 days to get “ball out” and others swear on the 45+ day target. Each strategy may have producer advantages but as a Michigan State University Extension beef educator, I have found that the 45+ day weaning protocol has significant advantages for the calf.
Most of the “Value-Added” calf sales require that the calves be weaned at least 45 days prior to sale the date. Data from Iowa from over a nine year period compared the health status of calves weaned less than 30 days to calves weaned longer than 30 days. Data from over 2,000 calves were summarized. Calves that had been sent to a feedlot at a time less than 30 days had a higher incidence of bovine respiratory disease (28 percent) compared to calves weaned longer than 30 days (13 percent). The percentage of calves that required 3 or more treatments also was significantly different (6 percent versus 1 percent) in favor of calves that had been weaned more than 30 days. In fact, the calves weaned less than 30 days were not different in health attributes than calves that were weaned on the way to the market.
Calves properly vaccinated and weaned 45+ days have a real advantage in terms of health compared to calves weaned for less than a month or those weaned on the way to the livestock market. Certainly, part of the value in value-added calves can be attributed to a properly administered vaccination protocol. However, there is little doubt that a portion of the improved health is due to the length of time between weaning and the movement of calves to the next owner.