Ivan Rush: Consider your weaning options
Fortunately the Northern inter-mountain region has received excellent moisture this year so plenty of forage is available for most cow-calf pairs. The heat has certainly set in, so cool season growth grass has ceased.
A couple of random thoughts on heat and grass: During this heat it is critical that cattle have plenty of good quality water available at all times so more frequent checking may be in order. I see many ranchers are harvesting grass hay and many report fantastic yields. This may be a year for some to profit by selling some excess hay as there is tremendous demand for any kind of forage in the drought-stricken Southwest. A lot of hay is leaving the Scottsbluff area headed to the drought area and hay prices have increased considerably. I know many ranchers feel it is almost a sin to ship hay off the place as the past 7-10 years of drought is still vivid in their mind, but it is still something to consider.
I know for many, weaning is a ways away. However, it’s not too early to start making plans, especially when considering a preconditioning program. I know many options are available for pre-weaning vaccinations, however in most cases a 7-way blackleg booster and 5-way viral in addition to parasite control will be recommended. Then it becomes a question of product selection and timing. I will leave those conversations up to you, your veterinarian, and prospective buyers.
I recently attended the Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science meetings in Miles City, MT and saw three research trials dealing with weaning management. One trial was from North Dakota State University where bladders were evaluated when used in the nose of the calves to prevent nursing. They compared two different methods of weaning where they used the bladders for 7 days before weaning, while another group were weaned conventionally – taken off the cow and placed directly in the feedlot. They measured blood cortisol as an indicator of stress, rectal temperature, travel with a pedometer, and feed intake and gain for 65 days after entering the feedlot. The two-step weaning did show an advantage in feed efficiency over the 65-day period in the feedlot. The calves that had the bladders tended to go on feed and consume slightly more than those that were conventionally weaned. Blood parameters, rectal temperature, and distance traveled were similar for both treatments. Even though the numbers were relatively small in this experiment it appeared the two-phase weaning showed some advantages, especially in feed efficiency.
Another trial concerning weaning and management after weaning was conducted at the University of Wyoming by Smith and co-workers. They investigated two weaning dates (120 days versus 205 days) plus half of the calves from each weaning group were either placed on a finishing diet versus placed on corn stalks for 60 days. Calves that were weaned early and placed directly on feed were on feed the longest (all high concentrate) and also were the heaviest at harvest. A little surprising to me, but the calves that were turned out on corn stalks for 60 days did not show much compensatory gain when placed in the feedlot and tended to have lighter carcass weights when harvested for both the early and normal weaned calves. Feedlot feed efficiency and gain tended to favor those calves that were placed on feed when weaned. Overall, there were no differences in quality grade or ribeye area in any of the treatments.
Some early weaning data from Illinois, Ohio and other states has shown some advantage to quality grade and some feel that early weaning may be one tool that could be used to increase quality grade in calves. Other data however, does not support this thought. I believe the jury is still out concerning the impact of weaning on quality grade.
I hope all is going well this summer and remember to take the big water jug when you go out to work. Take some extra water for your dog.
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