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The Cattle Connection

The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies
Angus cow calf

Management in a Drought: Part 3


Early weaning (EW) is a management strategy that can alleviate grazing pressure on pastures. EW can be the necessary decision to keep from feeding cows all summer or having to liquidate cows due to lack of forage.

Maddox (1965) suggested that by the time a calf reaches 120 days of age, more than half of the calf's energy requirement comes from sources other than milk. This means that calves are consuming forage in no other supplement is provided. In spring calving herds, grass quality is declining at a corresponding time to when milk production plateaus. This results in calves needing other sources of nutrition. Boggs et al. (1980) showed that milk intake of calves declined 93% from April to August. This results in calves eating forage to compensate for the gap in nutrition, which can take available forage away from the cow.

Removing the calf will not only eliminate their forage intake, but also eliminate the nutritional demand of lactation on the cow. Cow intakes have been shown to decrease by as much as 40% when calves are early weaned. This intake reduction could be the needed decrease to deal with lower forage availability of a drought.

There are disadvantages to EW:

  • Increased Management
  • Need for Facilities
  • Increased Labor
  • Increased Feed Costs

These disadvantages may be over-ruled in times of drought.

Advantages besides decreasing forage intake of cows are: cows tend to have better BCS, heavier weights, and wean heavier calves the following year. EW calves also have better quality grades, higher % Choice grade, and higher ADG in the calf phase.

EW calves from first calf heifers and young cows can improve reproductive performance along with decreasing intake. Young cows are still devoting energy to growth and thus negative energy balance occurs more frequently. EW the calf decreases the energy requirement of the cow. Young cows are good candidates for EW.

Early weaning is a valuable management strategy that can reduce forage needs in times of drought. EW can also improve carcass quality and calf phase gains in beef calves. Cows also tend to be in better condition and heavier weight due to EW.

Although not the ideal scenario for most cattlemen, EW can be a management decision that is needed in times of low forage availability.



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