As we enter the fall months, weaning time is at hand for most spring calving herds. This is the exciting time of year when producers are able to reap the benefits of a year’s worth of work and planning. The weaning period is a critical time in that calf’s life, and without proper planning can set that calf behind for the rest of its lifetime. A weaning or receiving program should include a health plan, nutrition plan, and a plan to adjust calves to new surroundings.
A good weaning or receiving program should have several objectives. The ultimate goal of any program is to reduce the inherent stress from weaning or shipping. Along with this, another objective should be to develop immunity and fight off new disease challenges. The third objective of a receiving or weaning program involves the behavior of cattle. During this time, calves are asked to immediately adapt to new surrounding and perhaps even new penmates. They must learn to eat and drink from feed bunks and water troughs, and adjust to a new social heiarchy. Based on these objectives, the primary goals of this program should be to keep cattle healthy and have them start eating quickly.
The health component of the weaning or receiving program is often the first part of the program that most producers consider. Specifics of a health program should be tailored to both an operation and cattle’s needs. It is important to work closely with a local veterinarian familiar with the operation, and type of cattle. Following Beef Quality Assurance guidelines should also be an integral part of a health program. Since weaning can be such a stressful time in a calf’s life, it is generally recommended initial vaccinations should be given prior to weaning to allow calves time to develop immunity before being introduced to the stress of weaning. Boosters can then be given at weaning. It is important to pay attention to label directions as some vaccines may differ. Although the components of each health plan will differ in regards to specifics, several management practices are generally recommended. Cattle should be dewormed, vaccinated for Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Parainfluenza-3 (PI-3), Bovine Respiratory Synctial Virus (BRSV), and Blackleg (7-way Clostridial), tested for persistently infected BVD, and implanted with growth-promoting compounds if desired. Additional treatments and vaccinations may be needed based on veterinary advice.
The nutritional component is a critical piece of any weaning or receiving program. Nutrition can come in the form of pasture or hay and supplement. Regardless of its form or delivery method, stimulating intake quickly, and getting feed into calves early is vital. Without sufficient feed intake, calves will not only lose weight, but they may be more susceptible to disease. It is important to remember that feed intake will likely be low in the initial part of the period. It is important to provide a feed source that is highly palatable (calves should want to want to eat it), nutrient dense (calves will only eat small amounts), and contains the right blend of nutrients to meet the requirements based on size and expected feed intake.