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Early Weaning

It might seem to be a little early to discuss early weaning, but you never know when you might have to do it. Things like fire, drought, losing a lease, Govt intervention, and wolves can change your grazing plan overnight. Heifers and their calves are the group that suffer worst when there is no good green feed to eat. Studies conducted at Oklahoma State University with two groups of heifers that weighed about 730 lb. in the fall were split into an early weaning group and a normal weaning group. Those that had their calves weaned early weighed 875 lb, while those that nursed their calves until fall weighed 790. Here we go! The heifers that had their calves weaned early bred back at 97%, while the other group only bred at 59%. We seem to have more wrecks with 2nd calf heifers than any other group. The heifers that weaned their calves at about 7 months weren't able to gain weight and did not conceive well at all. Cows also suffer breeding problems when they nurse their calves for about 7 months even when something has happened that prevents them from grazing good quality grass. The researchers found that cows from the early weaned group came into heat 46 days after calving, while those in the other group took 81 days before they came into heat. The early weaned cows bred back at 100%, while the other group bred back at 83%. Now for the elephant in the room! What do we do with early weaned calves? Many studies have shown that 250-350 lb calves don't do well on range or irrigated grass. This holds true even if hay or concentrate is fed to supplement the grass. However calves put in pens AT HOME do very well. Early weaned calves that were sent to a commercial feedlot had a lot of trouble with disease and added stress. Their ration needs to be different than a normal weaning ration. Calves did best on a ration that was 16.7% protein and 74% TDN on a 100% dry matter basis. Early weaned calves fed this kind of ration outweighed the normal weaning calves by 90 lb. in the fall. This shouldn't be taken as an advertisement or recommendation for early weaning. However when lack of forage or other factors force you to consider options, it can be used to get good weight on the calves in the fall and improve conception rates for heifers and cows.


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