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Weaning And Nutrition Management

One time-tested method of adding value to a calf-crop is to retain the calves post-weaning at a minimum through a 45-day preconditioning program

The 45-day length is required to participate in many special sales or programmes and is viewed as the 'gold standard' of having cattle ready for a forage based stockering program or directly into a feedyard. Beyond post-weaning management, many other ingredients are necessary for a successful programmeme which maximises your potential for added value. The one which takes the greatest planning and most forethought is the genetics of the calf crop. What is the sire's EPD's, etc. Repeat customers and premiums frequently are based on the genetic base of the cattle and documented performance. The other key ingredient to reputation cattle is an effective and well documented herd health programmememe. Health and genetics are probably the two greatest determinants of achieving added value through selling preconditioned calves or retaining ownership through the stockering or feedlot phases.

The key to management through this process is a sound approach to calf management and nutrition through the weaning process.

Calf management - The focus of management practices should be to enhance value and decrease stress throughout the weaning process. That means castration and dehorning are done young and health vaccinations administered on time and according to label recommendations. Exposure to creep feed for a few weeks before weaning can decrease the required time post-weaning that it takes for calves to start consuming dry feed. Even low levels (1lb/hd/d) of creep consumption can hasten adaptation to feed post-weaning and minimise weight loss.

Recent attention has also been given to the weaning process with the management strategies of fence-line weaning or two stage weaning (stop nursing, then separate cow and calf). Both strategies have been compared to abrupt calf weaning and removal in research trials including one conducted at the Shenandoah Valley AREC in 2005 and 2006. Calves were assigned to a fence-line group, a nose-clip group where the clip was an anti-suckling device where calves remained with dams or a control group where the cows and calves were abruptly and completely separated. Fence-line weaning provided superior gain results as compared to nose clips or control groups when measured at days 7-14 post-weaning. In a Michigan research trial, the benefits of fence-line or nose clips dissipated by day-42 post-weaning. Both alternative strategies offer some short-term benefit in reducing stress on the calf but advantages in animal gain tend to be short-lived. These alternative, lower stress management options can become more important as the age at weaning is reduced.

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