Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Pre-weaning: Not just for drought anymore
The timely rain showers continue in our area and the prairie remains green and lush. It looks like I will have to mow my lawn again. Although the grass is still good, now is the time to plan your weaning strategy.
Early weaning has been used for many years to help your animals nutritionally in times of drought. Forty years ago when we were in a drought, one of my producers pulled his calves in August rather than October. When he sold in December he said, “My calves have never looked better.” In the years since we have increased the genetic potential of our calves for growth. There are three things which control the growth/health of an animal:
The more control we exert over these characteristics, the more efficient we become.
The market is at a very positive point for the cow-calf producer. You have invested your dollars in bulls which have growth and add pounds. Adding these extra pounds is very profitable for your operation. Costs of feeds are low and calf prices are high. It appears that each pound you add to a calf will generate at least $1.50 per pound profit over feed costs. If you add 40 pounds this summer and early fall, you will generate an extra $60 per head.
Nutrition has improved over the past forty years. In the past we fed cereal grains (oats, wheat, barley) to young calves. Now with the addition of distiller’s grains we have better success in formulating palatable, digestible rations which economically increase the weight gains.
In this time of herd expansion it is important to invest in the genetic potential of your future cow herd. Set goals for your replacements and select to allow your herd to fulfill those goals. Your attention to detail and careful selection will help you improve the genetic potential of your calves for the traits you choose.
Environment and nutrition can best be controlled in the feedlot scenario. The bunk allows a well formulated, balanced diet in adequate amounts for each calf in the lot. Shades and bedding can be added to temper the affects of environment, but confinement housing allows a more effective control of variables. Many producers report a 20 percent reduction in cost of gain in confinement versus outdoor pens.
In the past we utilized early weaning to aid the cow in maintaining body condition and increasing the carrying capacity of pastures. When the calf is removed the forage is required daily is lowered by 28 percent. Most of our purebred producers are utilizing early weaning to maximize the genetic potential of their calves. Many of you will be ultrasounding your cows soon. We like to vaccinate the calves with their first round of fall vaccinations preparing them for weaning. Any time you are rounding up your herd, plan on processing your calves pre-weaning.
Genetics, nutrition and environment control the efficiency and profitability of your cow-calf/feedlot operations. Consult your veterinarian, nutritionalist or extension specialist to establish obtainable goals for your herd. They will also help you design strategies and programs which will allow you to meet your goals and thereby achieve maximum profitability of your operation. Preparedness and planning will help your ranch be economically successful in the future.