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Early Weaning Beef Calves During Drought Conditions

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Traditionally, calves are weaned at six to seven months of age. In typical spring calving herds, this is usually October or November. However, during drought, forage is generally limiting and early weaning should be considered as a management tool. Time of weaning will have impacts on cow and calf performance as well as health and productivity of the native range or pasture.
Early weaned calves achieve adequate rates of growth if given access to high quality ration. By the time calves are 3 to 4 months of age, they are consuming significant amounts of forage. At 6 to 7 months of age, calves will consume approximately half the amount of forage as a mature cow. Following weaning, dry cows will eat less forage than lactating cows, further reducing demand placed on the pasture. By removing the demands of lactation, acceptable pregnancy rate and calving season length can usually be maintained.

Early weaning is one management option, which should be considered during drought. Early weaning will be more successful and less stressful when adequate attention to nutrition, health, management and facilities is considered. Early weaning should be considered as part of a normal drought management strategy and should be evaluated in terms of it costs and benefit to the financial health of the business.