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Strategic Weaning Practices Can Lead to Bigger Profits

Aug 14, 2020

Weaning. It’s a stressful time in the life of a calf, and the stress can take its toll on the development and value of your cattle. 
As calves are weaned, their immune system is suppressed, making calves more susceptible to ailments like bovine respirory disease, coccidiosis an acidosis. Minimizing stress is crucial when it comes to weaning calves. Otherwise, the odds of incurring losses increase dramatically. Our livestock specialists, Shawna Lorenzen and Taylor Handy are available to provide assistance with weaning strategy and management. 
As a producer, you can reduce additional stress and manage the calf weaning process to achieve the best result for the calf, and for your own profit potential. Here are a few ways you can do just that. 

  1. Take it slow: Don’t just the weaning process by shipping claves before they are fully weaned. Transport, and acclimating to a new environment is very stressful. That stress can result in weight loss, sickness or even death. 
  2. Minimize other stresses: Avoid performing other herd care such as dehorning, and castration during this critical period as these are also very stressful to the calf. Dehorning and castration should be completed well before weaning or 30 days after. 
  3. Reduce parasites: Deworming may be advisable for calves that feed predominately on pasture. Check with your veterinarian about products and schedules. 
  4. Vaccinate judiciously: Most veterinarians recommend a single-dose vaccination protocol three to four weeks before weaning; others administer two doses, one six weeks before weaning, and another three weeks before. Vaccinations performed earlier may not be as effective because calves that young simply don’t respond well to vaccines.
  5. Avoid dietary changes: Making changes in the calf’s diet should be minimized during weaning, as this requires the calf’s rumen to grow different organisms, which can take up to two weeks. Calves on pasture need time to acclimate to feedlot rations. Sound creep feeding practices before weaning can help in the transition.
  6.  Keep an eye on the sky: You avoid the hottest times of the year through early weaning, but severe weather of any type can have a negative impact on weaning. Sprinkle pens in hot dry weather to minimize dust and the respiratory problems it can cause. Also, make sure calves have adequate shade and water, and process them early in the day during hot weather.
  7. Ensure safety: Make sure weaning pens are in good shape, including fences, gates, feed bunks and troughs. Clear out remaining manure, fill in ground holes and remove other hazards.
  8. Provide adequate water: Dehydration can be a problem for calves unacquainted with troughs. Sometimes they are afraid or simply too stressed to drink. Use a trough style familiar to them or have water flowing into the trough to attract their attention.
  9. Keep an eye out: During the first few weeks of weaning, keep a close eye on calves, checking for illness, eating behavior and other problems. If illness is widespread, take temperatures daily and treat calves with temperatures over 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit — or treat the entire group.
  10. Watch sick calves: Keep an accurate record of each calf, its symptoms and medications. If possible, separate sick calves for treatment and recovery.
    These methods should help your calves achieve a smooth transition to independence. And that means fewer headaches for you — and your wallet! Learn more about feed: https://www.rivervalleycoop.com/Feed

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