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Six weaning tips for stronger calves

Early weaning of beef calves can be of benefit in many operations, and may be something for you to consider in your herd.

Six weaning tips for stronger calves

Early weaning of beef calves can be of benefit in many operations, and may be something for you to consider in your herd.

Early weaning dries up the cow earlier and gives her more time to regain condition prior to breeding.

Since postpartum estrus starts earlier, the cow will have a more favorable body condition and nutrition levels when it comes to breeding time. This ultimately leads to increased pregnancy rates for your herd.

Early calf weaning reduces the feed needed for your herd. Since the cow is no longer lactating, her protein and energy requirements are nearly cut in half and brought back to a maintenance level of nutrition. If early calf weaning is executed correctly, calves will have equal or increased weights as compared to traditional weaned calves. Early weaning will help you capitalize on high feed conversions of young calves.

But some management changes are needed to help in the transition. Some tips include:

Make sure you are feeding a high-quality, highly palatable creep feed for at least three weeks prior to weaning. This will allow ample time for the calves to get accustomed to the feed bunk and eating concentration.

Administer vaccines prior to weaning to help boost the immune systems. Weaning is a stressful time for the calves and their mothers. You should also castrate and dehorn calves prior to weaning in order to spread stressful events over a wide time period, instead of stacking them all on the same day. This will give the immune system a better chance of fighting off disease.

Make sure all calves are eating enough feed. Hand-feeding grain may be helpful or even necessary for some calves. The only calories these calves will be getting is going to be grain; if they are not eating enough prior to weaning, you will see a slump in weight gain because they will have insufficient calorie intake for a period of time.

Use fence-line weaning and a location that the calf is familiar with to decrease the stress of being separated from the cow and being cut off from milk.

Monitor calves during weaning closely. The first two weeks after weaning are critical. Monitor for respiratory and digestive upsets and scours in this time period. You can split calves into smaller groups to make it easier to monitor health and feed intake and decrease stress in the early stages. Place one or two of the oldest calves that are better-trained to eat from the bunk in each group to lead the younger calves to feed and water. After you know all the calves are maintaining health and have good feed intake, you can put them in larger groups.

Manage starter rations carefully. Starter rations should be nutrient-dense so the calves get adequate energy requirements since they no longer have milk. Starter rations should have natural protein feeds (no urea or NPN) and no fermented feeds. Calves should be eating of their 1.5% body weight each day of the starter diet before starting on a grower diet. If forages are fed, ensure that it is a high-quality forage to aid in digestibility, as the rumen is still developing in these calves.

Contact your vet if you have any management or health questions when switching your herd to early calf weaning.

Kroeze is a veterinarian with Pipestone Veterinary Services, Pipestone, Minn. Contact him at, or 507.825.4211.

Key Points

Early weaning offers some important benefits.

Tips can make early weaning go more smoothly.

The key is keeping calves healthy and eating well.


Brett Kroeze, DVM


This article published in the September, 2014 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

Beef Herd Management

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