If you have a fall weaning date circled on your calendar, there could be benefits to moving it up just a tad, says Elaine Griggs, assistant professor and South Dakota State University Extension cow/calf specialist.
Peak milk production in cows is expected to occur about 60 days after calving. At that time, dietary needs peak and a 1200 pound cow in this stage needs about 2.8 pounds of crude protein. A non-lactating cow needs half that.
Now consider that in some parts of the country, drought is still prevalent. If so, early weaning could be a management tool, Griggs says.
"Early weaning of calves spares forage to help support the cow herd. Not only will the non-lactating cows eat less, the forage that the calves would be eating is also saved," she says.
Another advantage of weaning earlier comes if cows are in thin condition in late summer. Moving up the weaning date could allow those cows time to recover some condition before winter; ultimately saving on winter feed costs, Griggs says.
Very early weaning – before breeding – may be something to consider under certain conditions, she notes. This option may help improve reproductive performance in young or thin cows.
"A thin cow producing milk may be in poor energy status and may not begin reproductive cycles after calving," Griggs says. "Removing the demand for milk will help improve energy status and chances of an energy-deficient cow cycling. Little benefit in reproduction is expected from early weaning cows with adequate energy stores and feed resources that have begun cycling normally after calving."
Early weaned calves have been shown to gain very efficiently in the feedlot. However, these calves often have lighter carcass weights than calves weaned at the more traditional 7 months of age, Griggs says.
"Feedlot operators need to know they are managing early weaned calves so they can be fed properly to avoid compromising carcass characteristics," she advises.
"Weaning time can be determined by a combination of forage and cow condition on a yearly basis. In some years, a traditional weaning date may be the best choice. Early weaning can be a valuable tool when conditions warrant."
Source: SDSU iGrow