With what looks like another dry fall in many parts of the country, producers are looking for alternative management practices to help their cows, calves and pastures succeed in these tough conditions. Weaning calves early is an option to consider to support that success, but should be paired with other practices such as implementing vaccination protocols early, and reducing stocking rates.
Early weaning typically refers to calves weaned at 90 to 120 days of age, which is earlier than the traditional weaning period of October or November for spring calving herds. Producers that look to early weaning as a management practice need to make sure they’re making adjustments in other areas of the operation to accommodate for caring for the special needs of these earlier-weaned calves. Dr. Travis Van Anne is a Professional Services Veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica. Inc. He advises producers to take a look at their facilities, pasture quality, water availability and vaccinations for both cows and calves to ensure the greatest success.
Operational Impacts of Early Weaning
“When calves are weaned early, the nutrient requirement for the cow is reduced by about 50%,” says Dr. Van Anne. This is most important in younger cows, as they are still growing, and may need these nutrients to maintain an appropriate body condition score (BCS) and get pregnant again. “If these cows were to keep nursing [as opposed to early weaning], and lose body condition, they end up in the open pen and culled,” he advises.
If a producer anticipates early weaning, setting calves up for success starts with a proper vaccination program in their mother cows. Dr. Van Anne continues, “Cows that have been fed and vaccinated properly offer higher quality colostrum to their calves. A product like Express® FP pre-breeding, or Triangle® at seven months of pregnancy is ideal to boost colostrum immunity in the calf.”
Once calves are born, there are many things a producer can do to help calves thrive despite early weaning, starting with vaccinating. “Using a product like Pyramid® 5 + Presponse® SQ can work great on calves 30 or more days old,” says Dr. Van Anne. “When we use this protocol, we’re trying to prime the calf’s immune system for future exposures; even though we might not get a complete immune response, at least the calf has been exposed so protection can start, especially for those calves that did not receive adequate colostrum.”