Tips to Improve the Success of Weaning Beef Calves
– Jeff Lehmkuhler, Associate Extension Professor, University of Kentucky
Fall is officially here and with it will bring the country sound of calves bawling as weaning occurs on beef cattle farms. This time of year can be busy with field crops, getting the last cutting of hay and other farm activities. Take some time to prepare for weaning of the beef calves to add value to the calf crop prior to marketing. Weaning preparation can reduce stress for you and the calves.
A Few Tips to Successful Weaning
1) Minimize Transitional Stress – have castration, dehorning, first round vaccines and other procedures done prior to weaning; minimize diet changes and wean on pasture if possible and/or provide the same grain mix if calves were creep fed; consider fenceline weaning if facilities allow; watch the weather forecast and avoid weaning when rain or significant temperature changes (20+ degrees) are predicted within 3-5 days of weaning.
2) Ensure calves can drink clean, fresh water – for energy free/freeze proof waterers, consider removing balls/lids or locking balls/lids down so calves have access to water; long, shallow water troughs will encourage water intake the first 2-3 days post-weaning; check waterers daily and clean routinely to keep water free of feed, hay, and fecal contamination.
3) When feeding hay, provide a high quality grass hay – second or third cutting, leafy grass hay with 50% or less legumes is preferred; provide hay free-choice and drape hay over the feed bunk if using concrete bunks; ensure round bales are not so tightly wrapped that calves can’t pull hay from the bale easily; hay should be free of mold to encourage intake.
4) When offering a grain mix, start at 0.5-0.75% of body weight – hand-feed 3-4 pounds per calf (400-500 lb weaning weights) the first few days; encourage calves to approach the feed bunk by walking them up to the bunk if needed; provide 18-24 inches of linear bunk space per calf (10 foot feed trough for every 10-12 head);
5) Grain mix considerations – if using a commercial grain mix read and follow the feeding directions; for custom mixes consider including low starch containing feedstuffs such as soybean hulls, corn gluten feed, dried distillers grains, rice bran, wheat middlings, and others; corn can be used for weaning mixtures and requires additional bunk management; consult your nutritionist for recommendations.
6) Balance ration for target gains – Ensure the energy and protein levels of the diet are going to support desired performance; Often hay will need to supplemented with a grain mix that is 80%+ TDN and 16-20% crude protein; Have the minerals, vitamins, and any medications mixed into the grain mix; grain supplementation of 1-2% of body weight may be necessary to achieve target gains after calves have overcome weaning stress.
7) Take preventative steps for coccidiosis – consider including an ionophore, decoquinate or other medication to prevent or control coccidiosis.
8) Manage the environment – Provide access to shade when weaning during warm months; Keep barn areas dry and well bedded; Ensure fences are sound and free of broken boards or breaks in the fence that could lead to injury.
9) Be prepared to treat – having antibiotics on-hand for treatment of respiratory disease quickly will provide for a quicker response; digestive disorders can occur so have the necessary tools to manage bloat ready; evaluate castrated calves to ensure they are healing.
10) Market your calves – this means to communicate the to the market manager information on what products have been given, length of time calves have been weaned and other information that will make your calves more marketable; market calves in sales when other weaned calves of similar weight/type will be marketed to allow load lots to be assembled to increase opportunities for capturing premiums; consider preconditioning market programs.
For more information on managing the beef cattle herd, contact your local county Extension office. Additional information on weaning can be found in our Extension fact sheet ID-258 Weaning Beef Calves http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/ID/ID258/ID258.pdf . See you soon and hoping your calves top the market!