Is this year’s weaning date already on your calendar? Traditional fall weaning dates arise from a combination of declining forage supply and quantity, declining milk yield in the cow and having calves off the cow before winter weather sets in. These are all important considerations and ones that should be evaluated closely every year. Milk production is a major driver of cow nutrient needs and how well the forage supply is meeting those needs should be closely monitored.
Dietary needs during peak milk production
Peak milk production is expected to occur at about 60 days after calving in mature cows. At that
Maximum feed intake occurs several weeks after the peak in milk production. The following graph shows the impact of increasing milk yield and time since calving on expected dry matter intake. At the time of greatest intake,
Weaning considerations when forage supplies are limited
When forage conditions are limiting, in either quantity or quality, it could be worthwhile to consider weaning calves earlier than a more traditional fall date. Early weaning of calves spares
Because of the forage savings, early weaning is often thought of as a drought management tool. Rightfully so! When forage is sparse due to drought, weaning earlier than traditional fall dates can help manage limited forage resources. But there may also be an advantage to weaning earlier than normal if cows are in
Very early weaning (before breeding) may be something to consider under certain conditions also. Weaning calves before the breeding season may help improve reproductive performance in young or thin cows. A thin cow producing milk may be in poor energy status and may not begin reproductive cycles after calving. Removing the demand for milk will help improve energy status and chances of an energy-deficient cow cycling.
Early weaned calves have been shown to gain very efficiently in the feedlot. However, these calves often have lighter carcass weights than calves weaned at the more traditional 7 months of age. Feedlot operators need to know they are managing early weaned calves so they can be fed properly to avoid compromising carcass characteristics.
Weaning time can be determined by a combination of forage and cow condition on a yearly basis. In some years, a traditional weaning date may be the best choice. Early weaning can be a valuable tool when conditions warrant.
Source: Elaine Grings, South Dakota State University