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LITTLE ROCK -- Early weaning may help beef cows worn thin by the hard 2013-14 winter
and may help calves be ready for market sooner, say extension cattle experts with
the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
A relatively wet 2013 allowed cattle producers to harvest a generous hay crop, ensuring
“cattle producers had the hay supplies to begin feeding early and continue feeding
hay into April,” said Tom Troxel, associate head-animal sciences for the University
of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. With the long-lived winter, “most cattle producers found themselves running out of
hay, spring grass was late, and threats of freeze lingered into mid-April.”
Troxel said that even though cattle producers fed extra hay and supplemental feed
this past winter, many fall and spring calving cows are not in as desirable body condition.
“Hopefully, the fall calving cows are already bred, but ranchers may find getting
spring calving cows bred back a difficult task over the next few months,” he said.
“There are a couple of intervention strategies that may help jump start the estrous
cycle for these cows and hopefully improve conception for next year’s calf crop.”
Weaning the calf at an early age reduces the cow’s nutritional requirement, making
it easier to maintain or build body condition.
“The last thing a beef cow needs, especially a thin cow, is to be in a negative energy
balance going into the breeding season,” said Shane Gadberry, associate professor-ruminant
nutrition for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“Once the decision to wean early has been determined, the next question asked is,
‘What do I do with the calf?’”
Gadberry said there are two basic options for managing the weaned calf: 1) sell the
calf immediately and 2) background the calf until normal weaning or longer.
Selling the calf immediately eliminates risk.
“There is a lot of talk among cattlemen about the number of three-weight calves currently
being sold, so it appears that many are already taking this approach,” he said. “Currently
a 350-pound steer calf is selling for approximately $242 per hundredweight or $847
“Despite bringing a higher price per pound, the value of the early weaned calf is
less than its value if weaned at the typical age of six to seven months,” Gadberry
said. “Selling the calf will eliminate the additional labor required for managing
the calf until marketing later.”
Backgrounding the calf can provided additional value from the weight gained from early
weaning until normal weaning time.
“This option will require fencing that is capable of keeping young calves separated
from their mothers,” he said. “During this period, care must be taken to vaccinate,
control internal and external parasites, and provide a diet that will result in positive
Most likely, early weaned calves will be managed in a drylot setting until there is
sufficient spring and early summer grass. The diet of the early weaned calf will be
dependent upon the age at weaning. Very young cattle -- those younger than three months
old -- have not developed a functional rumen. The diet of these cattle should focus
on supplying a higher level of concentrate and low level of fiber. Weaning at two
to three months of age may be necessary for herds with a 90-day breeding season. Early
weaning may require weaning in phases to avoid weaning extremely young calves that
will be more of a challenge to manage nutritionally.
“It is important that forages included in the calf’s diet are very good quality,”
Gadberry said. “Young calves will require at least a 16 to 20 percent protein diet
and ranchers should anticipate the calves eating 3 percent of their body weight in
combined forage and concentrate dry matter.”
“As long as the cost to put on a pound of gain is less than the value of added weight
gain, these calves can be retained and developed to a heavier weight,” he said.
For more information about cattle production, contact your county extension office,
or visit our newly revamped website, www.uaex.uada.edu.
The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division
of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race,
color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status,
or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity
By Mary HightowerU of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Mary HightowerDir. of Communication ServicesU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) firstname.lastname@example.org