Early weaning consideration – Effects on cow performance

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With adequate spring moisture received in many areas, you may be asking why you should be considering early weaning.  Early weaning calves should be considered every year, however, you may select to not wean early.  Two common reasons for considering weaning early are to deal with poor range conditions and to improve the performance of the cows and calves.   This article will be looking at the effects of early weaning on cow performance.

In the Northern Great Plains, “normal” weaning would take place at 6 or 7 months of age (October/November).  Calves less than 2 months of age have been successfully weaned; however, normal rumen function is not developed until about 120 day of age.  Research has shown that calves older than 90 days can have satisfactory gains without milk replacers.  Management of early-weaned calves can range from selling them immediately to placing calves on feed in a drylot.

By early weaning, producers may be able to carry more cows through summer without additional purchases of feeds.   Researchers at Dickinson Research Extension Center compared the forage intakes of cows with calves weaned in mid-August to with cows that weaned calves in early November. They found that the early weaned cows only required 72% as much forage as the cows that nursed calves until November.

Dry cows have lower nutrient requirements than lactating cows therefore the dry cow’s nutrient requirements are more closely matched with forage quality and quantity.  Nutrient requirements can be reduced by one-third to one-half depending on the cow’s milk production.  Additionally, weaning early gives cows a better chance to regain body condition before winter and may improve reproductive performance of cows. 
Improved conception rates have been demonstrated, provided cows were weaned during the breeding season.  This means that calves were weaned at 45 to 100 days of age.  This strategy could be especially useful for young, thin cows that typically are more difficult to get re-bred.

Early weaning has some possible advantage’s for the cow-side: 1) saving forage, 2) improved body condition score, 3) improved conception rates (if weaned during breeding season), and 4) possibly reduced winter feed costs.  Early weaning is one practical management alternative that can be used to stretch your present forage supply and still return a profit.  However, prior to early weaning a management plan for the calves should be in place.

When making your decision to early wean or not, be sure you consider the financial implications as well as the potential resource savings.

Source: Julie Walker



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