STOCKTON, Mo. – “Markets as well as limited feed resources may lead to early weaning fall calves,” says Patrick Davis, University of Missouri Extension livestock field specialist. Cattle producers may be limited on feed resources, and early weaning will help reduce cow herd nutrient need. Furthermore, early weaning may help cattle producers prepare to market their fall calves a little earlier than normal because of financial implications. Either way, Davis will discuss management strategies to help be successful in the early weaning process.

“Consider age when early weaning calves,” says Davis. Calves have been weaned as early as 60 days of age. However, this is usually not practical in most beef cattle operations. Davis suggest it is more practical to wean at approximately 120 days of age, and most fall calves are currently in that range.

“Post-weaning feed consumption is important to a successful early weaning program,” says Davis. One way to help in this area is to provide a concentrate creep feed approximately a month prior to weaning to help calves adapt to the post-weaning diet. Also, top dress the initial calf weaning diet with good-quality hay for the first three to five days to improve diet consumption post-weaning. Calves should reach a proper daily consumption of 2.75% to 3.25% of body weight.

“Pay close attention as you develop a feeding program for early weaned calves,” says Davis. Make sure the diet meets all nutrient needs of the animal. Also have a free choice mineral, trace mineral and vitamin supplement to satisfy those needs. Add water or a liquid supplement such as molasses to reduce diet sorting and improve palatability. Davis suggests visiting with your local MU Extension livestock field specialist when developing a feeding program for your early weaned calves.

“Managing animals and setting up the weaning area properly leads to a successful early weaning program,” says Davis. Sort and allocate calves to weaning pens based on size. Put water and feed near the fence line so calves will bump into them as they walk the fence early post-weaning. Make sure the water equipment is cleaned regularly and the water is clean and cool, which should lead to adequate consumption. Weaning areas should also be small and have shelter and dust control measures to promote proper health and performance of the calves.

“Work with your veterinarian to develop a proper health program to cut down on morbidity and mortality of early weaned calves,” says Davis. Some things to consider:

  • Process calves, which includes tagging, branding and castration at least 14 days prior to weaning.
  • Provide proper internal and external parasite control, including fly control.
  • Provide proper vaccinations prior to weaning.
  • Monitor calves daily for symptoms of respiratory disease, digestive disturbances, scours, coccidiosis and reduction of dietary intake, and work with your veterinary to treat these symptoms.
  • Retain calves post-weaning in small groups to reduce sickness spread.

Contact your local MU Extension livestock field specialist for more information on early weaning calves.

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