Prepare calves for a dry weaning season

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Geni Wren This year is shaping up to be dry, though it’s not known if we will have as severe of a drought as last year.

Some producers will need to early-wean calves in order to preserve as much forage as possible for cows. Others may be able to have a normal weaning time for their calves.

Chris Reinhardt, PhD, Kansas State University, offers tips to get calves weaned, eating starter rations and getting off to a good start this season.

 Rations

  • Good quality grass hay is very palatable and a good way to attract bawling calves to the bunk.
  • Don’t use a bale ring; you’ll just need to re-train them  to the bunk later.
  • After 1-2 days of hay feeding, limit hay consumption to about 1.0% of bodyweight (5 pounds for 500-pound calf) and top-dress 3-5 pounds/head (for 500-pound calf) of the weaning ration on top of the hay.
  • As calves consume this small amount of mixed diet, begin to further reduce the amount of hay you feed each day and increase the amount of mixed diet. CAUTION: Increase the feed offered per head very gradually. Excessive consumption of even a moderate energy starter diet can cause acidosis in a calf which hasn’t been fully adapted to grain. Increase the ration no more than 2 pounds/head every other day.
  • If calves are hungry, feed 1-2 pounds of extra hay in the bunk.
  • If stools become loose, you may have increased the ration too rapidly. If this happens, feed an additional 1-2 pounds /head of hay.
  • Healthy calves should consume about 3% of bodyweight by14 days on feed. Sick calves may take longer to reach this level of consumption.

Types of rations
A standard mixture of 50% ground hay (grass or grass/alfalfa mix), 50% concentrate (including cracked or ground grain and starter supplement) can be fairly easy to blend and manage, Reinhardt says. However, if byproduct feeds such as wheat midds, soy hulls, distillers grains, or corn gluten feed are available and inexpensive, they can be substituted for a portion of the grain component.

Silage should be limited to 10% or less in the starter ration, but can be increased in later step-up diets. “Avoid the temptation to skimp on quality of starter ingredients; also, avoid the temptation to rush the quantity of starter ration you provide for the calves to eat,” Reinhardt recommends.

When calves have consumed 3% of their body weight of the starter ration continuously for 3-5 days, you can move them up to the next step-up ration.

“You want to make the weaning diet as easy of transition for the calves as possible,” Reinhardt says. “You need to deliver energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals, all in a form that they will readily consume.”



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