Vet’s Voice by Dave Barz: Wean early, maximize pasture efficiency
July 1, 2013
Finally we got some rain. Most of us got enough to get by, but some got enough to end the drought. Many of you have already culled your herds extensively in response to expensive feed and depleted pastures. Hopefully we will now all be able to maintain our herd numbers.
One of the best ways to allow you to maximize your existing pasture is to early wean your calves and allow the cows to graze on existing pasture. If the cow isn't lactating, she requires much less energy. This allows you to increase your stocking density after breeding. We all understand how important reproductive efficiency is to the future of our herds. Your heifers and second and third calvers are more at risk to being open at pregnancy check this summer or fall. They are still growing to reach mature weight. This pulls energy to grow rather than for reproduction. As we increased our frame size of our cows in the '80s, we referred to this problem as the "Sophomore Slump."
Some of my clients are thinking of weaning at breeding time. Many have pulled calves at breeding to help stimulate the females to come into heat. Usually the calves were returned to the cows after breeding, but this year they may not be returned. In the swine industry we have seen early weaning become commonplace. When I was in vet school (40 years ago) piglets were weaned at 4-6 weeks of age. Now they are weaned at 10-14 days.
There are two important advancements making early weaning possible: Nutrition and Vaccination.
We have all seen the calf which comes home from pasture after losing its mother. It is usually rough haired and probably has a pot belly. Roughage and pasture grass just don't cut it with the early weaned calf. The calf misses the protein from its mother's milk. Now creep feeds and starter pellets have better quality feed stuffs which enable the calf to grow to its full genetic potential, an improvement over the oats-fed calf of yesteryear with its pot belly.
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Minimizing stress and a good vaccination are very important. We have had good viral injectable vaccines for many years. We need to give a primary vaccination before turnout and booster again later in the summer. Black leg vaccines are also important if you place the calves on feed. This will help prevent sudden death due to overeating. We are having good success with new intranasal vaccines. This vaccine stimulates local immunity and is relatively fast acting. The best part of the vaccine is there are very few side effects or reactions. Many injectable products cause a temperature spike and stiffness. We don't see this with intranasals. Also, the Bovine Respiratory Syncitial Virus (BRSV) portion of the vaccine works better as intranasal than injectable. We have a lot of problems with BRSV in our calves, especially on feed, in our area.
Once you have your calves weaned and bunk broke, you can send them to a custom feedlot if you have no feed. If you must purchase feed, the conversion is high on these young calves and they don't eat a lot of pounds per day. This will help make your project cost effective.
Early weaning at breeding or later this summer is a great way to save pasture and improve the cow's body condition. Nutrition and vaccination of the young calf is very important to the success and efficiency of your herd. Consult your veterinarian, nutritionist or extension specialist to devise a plan for your herd. Careful preparation and attention to detail will help you maintain your herd for the future.