Over the last few weeks I have started to get a few inquiries from producers planning to wean some autumn calves early. This is a good option and can reduce your feeding costs. Done right you can end up with some great performing stock.
With the current conditions and the forecasts not looking too favourable this may be an option for some spring calves on the ground now or hitting the ground soon.
So why should you think about early weaning? It requires less feed to feed a cow and calf separately than it does to feed the cow and calf together. Usually 30 to 40% less feed.
By weaning early you are able to maintain your cows’ fat score, which will help in future years to maintain their performance, such as calving and weaning percentage. If the bulls are still in when you wean this will help to increase your conception rates (plan for the future).
Over the years I have seen a lot of early weaned calves with varying success in numerous situations and environments. When I look at those who have done it successfully, it comes down to a few key points.
They have been prepared early and have prepared the livestock and area they are going to wean into beforehand. They have fed appropriately for the weight of calf that they have weaned, and they have had a good health program sorted. They monitor the lighter animals more regularly.
There are a few other tips for early weaning. Never have mobs of greater than 100-150. When checking the mob take off any shy feeders (I suggest you sell these as they will always be a problem) or sick animals.
Draft and feed animals of similar age and weight, don’t let the big ones bully and get all the feed.
Ensure the site you choose has all-weather access, and avoid feeding areas that get boggy and wet as you could get a storm.
Think about some shade and finally allow enough trough space for the calves (30cm/head if you are feeding daily).
The health of early weaned calves is always a concern and you need to plan how to control parasites and problems like pink eye.