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Hot, Dry Weather Makes Calf Weaning, Management Important
Missouri Ag Connection - 12/07/2017

Hot and dry weather conditions are causing some farmers to alter their normal beef cattle management plans. According to Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension, there are some important lessons to learn based on a similar situation in 2011.

"Producers need to learn from 2011. We shouldn't make the same mistakes this year," said Cole.

As producers consider changes in their usual routine, the one that seems at the top of most lists is to wean calves early if forage is lacking. A non-lactating cow can get by on a lot less feed than one nursing a calf.

Weaning calves at three months of age is possible if you have good feed and management.

"In southwest Missouri, most early weaned calves will be five months of age on average, so that isn't too early," said Cole.

Coles says weaning should be as low-stress as possible. Research supports the fenceline concept as the desired method. Make sure the fences are good, the lot or pasture offers shade, fresh water and a minimal amount of dust.

"Fresh hay or grain supplements should be offered in locations easily accessed by the calves. The best place for the hay and grain is likely will be along the fence next to the cows. Make sure there's space for all to eat," said Cole.

Calves that are used to a creep feeder should have little trouble adapting to their new home. However, calves that have only been nursing and eating what pasture they can find will take a bit longer to adjust to a feed bunk or self-feeder.

"The feed that seems to get freshly weaned calves to the bunk is top quality alfalfa/grass hay," said Cole. "Even good prairie hay if cut early with no mold or weeds works. Placing the hay on top of a palatable grain mix in the bunk should help take their mind off momma."

Shade is critical, especially if the calves have not shed and have been on toxic fescue. Trees provide the most comfortable shade, but if there are few trees in the weaning pasture, portable shades will work. A weaned calf requires 20 square feet of shade space as a minimum.

Besides making the calf comfortable with feed, water and shade, the most valuable piece of the weaning puzzle could be the owner or manager of the calves according to Cole.

"This person needs to be a constant and thorough observer. Observation means walking through to spot calves with the "ADR" symptom. In other words "ain't doing right," said Cole. "Early detection and treatment of respiratory, digestive problems and pinkeye are most important as they go through the early weaning phase."

Having a good working relationship with a veterinarian is beneficial as the producer determines what to give and when to administer immunizations and treatments. Keep a close record of treatments to evaluate successes and failures.

"Don't try to remember what and when you did something, write it down or enter it on the computer," said Cole.

Fly control should continue when calves are separated from the herd. There may even need to be some changes made for fly protection in the product used or method of treatment.

"Perhaps in their new location spraying or self-treating devices are an option that wouldn't work in the cow pastures," said Cole.

Many farmers immediately feel that if weaning is the answer, they need to sell right off the cow. That isn't always the best decision according to Cole.

"The cattle market does offer opportunities for persons who can arrange to add important weight to their calves," said Cole.

Additionally, weaning calves early will give their dams a chance to recover in body condition score. Some may even respond by breeding back if they were late calvers.

"These bred cows could be a valuable asset to hold on to in the near future," said Cole.

For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Lawrence County, (417) 466-3102; Andy McCorkill in Dallas County at (417) 345-7551; Dr. Randy Wiedmeier, in Ozark County at (417) 679-3525; or Dr. Patrick Davis in Cedar County at (417) 276-3313.

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