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Using early weaning to survive the drying and trying times

Author: Kristy

Laura Mushrush, Assistant Editor, Drovers CattleNetwork  |  Updated: 05/16/2014

Hot air swells across the land, sucking what little moisture is left out of the ground. It’s been days since a decent rain and much of the area is wilting away in a parched state. Amidst it all stands a rancher, looking out across the once flourishing paradise which will turn into a desiccate wasteland if rains don’t come. But hard times have come before, and the ranch managed to stay alive through smart management decisions – this time is no different.

As several areas in the United States are under pressure from drought conditions, there are options available to stretch their resources. A recurring hot topic during these drying times has been early weaning. Typically, producers practice this method by pulling calves off the cow from 90-150 days.

“The last couple years we have had a lot of people in Kansas go to early weaning and be amazed at the results,” says Kansas State University Beef Veterinarian Dr. Larry Hollis. “Yes, you like to sell more pounds at weaning, but the price slide will cover a lot of that with the increase price you get for lighter weight calves.”

Before making a decision to early wean, Hollis says to have a marketing plan in place for the calf crop. Depending on the operation and available resources, producers can either hold on to the calves and feed them to a higher weight before selling, or go ahead and put them on the market.

If a producer typically markets calves through a local market, Hollis advises to do some pencil pushing to see if it would be worth selling them elsewhere.

“Do I sell at my local market here in drought country where no one has grass and the price for calves might not be very high,” says Hollis. “Or do I take those calves and put wheels under them and move them to an area where they have plenty of grass and pay higher?”

The biggest benefits of early weaning are taking pressure off the cow and the rangeland.

“When you get that cow dried up and she’s not having to run feed through her udder in the form of milk to her calf, it lowers her (nutrition) requirement,” explains Hollis. “Anything you were going to feed to the cow, you feed to the calf and it will use it far more efficiently than the cow.”

Stress from weaning on a younger calf has many producers worried about health risks. According to Hollis, because calves that young still have colostrum antibodies in their systems to help build immunity, they are less susceptible to new bugs picked up in marketing channels and new environments.  However, he does say weaning in a dusty area may increase a calf’s risk of getting sick.

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