Think high quality feeds for early-weaned calves
Dry conditions this summer have encouraged some producers to wean their calves earlier than the typical six to seven months. As long as feed rations are managed correctly, research has shown that these calves can perform as well or better than calves still nursing explained, Julie Walker, Associate Professor & SDSU Extension Beef Specialist.
“Pasture quality has a key influence on performance of nursing calves. However, under “normal” conditions daily gain of nursing calves during the period is usually 2.1 to 2.3 pounds. Whereas early-weaned calves on well balanced starter diets can gain as much as 3.5 to 5.3 pounds per day,” Walker said.
Below Walker outlines some tips to achieving early-weaning success.
“Hitting the desired performance/growth from weaned calves depends on getting them up on dry feed as quickly as possible,” she said. “Lower dry matter intake is typically found for the first three to 14 days following weaning. During this receiving period, dry matter intake will range from 1 to 1.5 percent of body weight. (For example, a 350-pounds calf would consume 3.5 to 5.3 pounds per day.)”
Hence, Walker explained, high-quality feed ingredients are needed to develop a starter diet that is energy-dense (approximately 70 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN)), includes 14-16 percent high crude protein and very palatable (see Table 1).
Table 2 provides a couple of examples of starter rations for early weaned calves.
“Remember to develop a ration that fits your feedstuffs resources and delivery equipment,” Walker said.
She recommends similar particle size of the ingredients to reduce sorting of the diet components. “Controlling dust of the diet promotes better intakes. Rations need to have some level of forage which allows for proper rumen health,” Walker said.
Some feedstuffs that are missing from the starter rations are silage and distillers grains.
However, Walker said that calves previously exposed to silage and other fermented feed could have these ingredients included in the ration.
“Introduction to these feeds to inexperienced calves should be gradual and occur after they are at an acceptable intake level,” Walker explained. “Silages and distillers byproducts are nutritious feeds, but incorporation of these feed ingredients to the starter diets should be limited.”
In light-weight calves rumen capacity is limited (less than 400 pounds), as a result silages and high moisture feeds should be restricted to maintain an intake.
Walker said the inclusion of long hay is often debated. “One side of this debate is that if long hay is available calves will eat not enough of the concentrate portion of the diet. The other side contends that long hay is alike to their previous pasture diet, which promotes dry matter intake,” she explained. “However, calves will consume long hay before the unknown concentrate mixture. Success with long hay depends on how it is incorporated.”
Walker added that top dressing the concentrate over the long hay can work well.
“However, feeding hay in bale rings too often results in calves eating excess hay and inconsistent amounts of concentrate, resulting in poorer efficiencies,” she said.
Mineral and Vitamin Supplements
A good mineral and vitamin program is important for early weaned calves. Mineral and vitamin supplements should be incorporated into the ration to ensure all calves will consume the required amount.
To learn more about mineral and vitamin management decisions, visit iGrow.org and read the article titled, “Managing Light Weight and Early Weaned Calves” by Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.
Walker provides a quick refresher of these management considerations:
1. Make sure the facilities will handle lightweight calves – can the calves reach the water and bunks. Make sure there are no small holes that these smaller calves can slip through.
2. Adequate feed bunk and water space; provide at least 12 inches of bunk per head.
3. Control dust in the lot.
4. Have a leader animal (yearling or dry cow) that will lead/show newly weaned calves the bunk and waterer.