Dale Watson
Commercial Agriculture Beef and Livestock Specialist
University of Missouri Extension




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Please send your comments and sund suggestions to Dale Watson, Commercial Agriculture Beef and Livestock Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, 111 N. Mason, Carrollton, MO 64633, call 660-542-1792, or send messages by e-mail to: watsond@missouri.edu.
For the Week of
August 26, 1999

Early Weaning a Possibility

We have seen many different management adjustments utilized when we were experiencing drought years in the past. The management of the cow/calf operation is one that becomes critical when reduced or no grazing is available.

Basically we have three decisions that need to be made. First, do we want to maintain the beef herd; if the answer is no, then perhaps we need to look for a market for the entire cow/calf entity. If the decision is to maintain the herd, then we must decide what nutritional strategy to use to proceed with care of the cow herd and calf operation. Second, if additional feed is available, then start by feeding hay or supplementing hay with the available pasture to stretch the available forage and reduce the strain on the grass that is trying to recover from the lack of available moisture.

The nutritional requirement for dry, pregnant beef cows is drastically reduced when comparing them to nursing cows. University of Missouri Guide 2068 lists the requirements for both dry pregnant cows and cows nursing calves. The difference between these seasonal requirements is 2.1 lbs. Dry Matter, 0.07 lbs. Protein, 3.41 lbs. Net Energy Maintenance, and 2.7 lbs. of Total Digestible Nutrients; these calculate to numbers that add up in a hurry when calves reach 4 months of age. The lower nutritional requirement for the dry cows is a significant saving, plus the fact that forage available for grazing is left for the dry cows when the early weaning technique is utilized.

Finally, early weaning of the calf crop is a possibility that needs consideration. Keep in mind that if the decision to early wean is determined, both the amount of labor and the demand for additional management will increase. In past drought years I have worked with producers who have weaned calves which were 90 days of age. This may seem young to many producers, but it can be successfully accomplished if labor, facilities, and nutritional management are obtainable. A major stress factor is the health of the calves. If lung congestion develops from exposure to the dust, either immediate respiratory problems or lung complications may develop later in the life of the calf; during extreme cold or hot conditions this will become very apparent.

This management tool has been used quite successfully to stretch the feed supply. Make sure a highly palatable ration is fed to the calves and adequate shade, water, and close observation is maintained. Economically it is cheaper to feed the calf in many circumstances than to feed the calf through the cow when late summer feed supplies become short due to the drought conditions.

University of Missouri ExtensionDale's Country Trails - August 26, 1999
http://outreach.missouri.edu/agconnection/DCT/CT082699.html -- Revised: April 20, 2004