Most calves are still weaned as autumn approaches, but several different strategies could work for many producers.
Recent dry weather could have some producers looking at weaning early, says Joe Sellers, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in Chariton, Iowa.
Pasture weaning could be the choice, he says, but that requires adequate forage to transition calves off their mother.
“It’s easier to keep them healthy in the pasture than it is in a drylot setting,” Sellers says. “But you need to make sure you have the forage to make it work.”
Some producers could choose to creep feed calves, but Sellers cautions against feeding just distillers or some other co-product.
“I think you’d want to look at limit feeding them something like that,” he says, adding a combination of hay and co-products generally works well.
Sellers says pasture weaning also helps keep calf stress levels down.
Dry weather has South Dakota producers considering earlier weaning, says Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University. Some may wean when calves are as young as 60 days of age, with most waiting another month or so.
“Creep feed will help them get started, and you want to make sure you have adequate water available to the calves,” Walker says.
A visit with the veterinarian to set up a health program is also beneficial.
Fenceline weaning is a popular choice for producers and keeps stress minimal on calves, she says.
“The calves are right there with their mothers, and they are going to wean earlier and with less stress,” Walker says.
Some producers are beginning to use nose flaps to help prompt earlier weaning. The flap prevents the calf from getting to the teat, forcing it to look elsewhere for food.
“The calf is still able to nuzzle with its mom, so it works pretty well from what I’m hearing,” Walker says. “I think most leave it on the calf five to seven days at least, if not a little longer.”
She says most producers are still weaning in early fall, moving calves to a drylot and separating them from their mothers.
“You really want to do all you can to reduce the stress on the calf and cow,” Walker says. “Make sure they have a palatable diet, and ideally you want to start them on some kind of feed they recognize.”
Sellers says weaning a calf earlier also allows the cow to regain body condition while in mid-gestation.
“It’s much better on the cow if she’s able to eat and put on weight,” he says. “It’s just going to help her throughout gestation and even into re-breeding.”