Drought conditions across the Midwest are causing some producers to consider an early weaning plan for calves. According to Rick Rasby, a professor of animal science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, considering feed quality and quantity, and developing a nutrition and vaccination program for early weaning might work for some producers in drought-stricken areas.
According to Rasby, weaning calves 45 to 60 days old in drought conditions is a viable management strategy, and weaning calves three to five months old is also an alternative if feed is scarce before autumn, but a management plan for the calves is crucial.
“Regardless of weaning age, calves that start eating dry feed immediately after separation from their mother have less morbidity and mortality than calves that do not eat 24 to 48 hours after separation,” said Rasby.
The height of the bunks and drinkers should be adjusted to suit the calves, Rasby said, and a creep feeder offered three to four weeks before weaning can have calves start on processed feed to make the weaning transition easier.
“It is important that the calves eat as soon (as possible) after separation from their mother. If calves are fed crawl feed before weaning, they will quickly get used to being separated from their dams, ”said Rasby.
According to Rasby, the starter ration should be fed until the calves consume 4 to 5 pounds per animal per day, or 1 to 1.5 percent of their body weight. This can take 10 to 14 days.
Along with the management plan, early weaning requires additional vaccination planning.
Vaccinations like bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), parainfluenza 3 (PI3) and bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), given about a month before weaning, with appropriate booster vaccinations at or shortly before weaning, are according to Russ Daly, DVM extension vet at South Dakota State University, is common in preconditioning programs for cow calf producers.
Daly says producers should still plan to vaccinate weaned calves early.
“In the past, researchers feared that colostrum antibodies would interfere with the vaccine response. More recent work shows that killed vaccines, modified intranasal live vaccines or adjuvanted modified live vaccines, which are used in calves only a few months old, can protect against active infection with viruses such as BVDV, ”writes Daly in an SDSU paper on early weaning .
Daly recommends consulting a local veterinarian as changing the timing of a vaccination program can be challenging.
“The exact timing of respiratory vaccines (along with typical Clostridium combinations) is best discussed with your veterinarian,” says Daly.
However, Rasby shares some general statements about preconditioning shots:
If calves are now receiving respiratory vaccines for the first time, they should ideally receive it at least two weeks before weaning. Any vaccine, especially the first dose, takes time to stimulate the immune system prior to exposure (in this case, the stress of withdrawal) – in general, the more time the better.
Pay attention to the dosage of the booster vaccination and its timing. The best immunological “bang for the buck” is when the booster dose is given within the time indicated on the product label (usually three to four weeks after the initial dose). Try to give a booster dose at this point regardless of how close the first dose was given before weaning.
Calves given respiratory vaccines at the time of branding are given a little more flexibility. The response to a booster dose is faster than the response to the starting dose. Booster vaccination at weaning is acceptable practice; however, doing so a few days before weaning would ensure a good immune response on board when the calf is weaned.
David Lalman, professor and beef extension specialist at Oklahoma State University, says the most critical time for weaned calves is the first two weeks.
“Calves have to overcome the stress of weaning and learn very quickly to eat dry feed. The first ration should be very tasty and high in protein and energy, as the total consumption of the ration will be low at first, ”said Lalman.
Lalman also recommends using a creeper in the pasture before weaning, but points out that most calves do not eat a lot of creeps while breastfeeding.
“Remember that early weaned calves start on a high energy and protein ration and gradually switch to a breeder-type ration as their total intake increases,” says Lalman.
“With small calves weighing between 150 and 250 kg, you take on the role of mother and mother nature by replacing milk and high-quality pastureland with feed or harvested feed. appropriate. This can be challenging with shared ranch resources, ”Lalman said.
The nutritional management program must be closely monitored and administered on a daily basis.
“Feed intake, diarrhea, hairiness, calves picking up dirt or chewing wood, and meatiness are things to watch out for. The calves should lick themselves and the coat should be light and fresh, not brown and stale, for example looking for black calves, ”Lalman said. “My suggestion would be to limit feed intake as soon as it reaches around 2 percent of body weight so that the calves don’t get too meaty. In our most recent experiments, we fed the calves pretty much anything they would ingest, only to find out how much they would eat compared to their contemporaries who were still breastfeeding their mothers. As a result, the early weaned calves were meaty after 205 days. “
Lalman offers more tips on early weaning and a three-step ration plan for early weaning at: https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/early-weaning-for-the-beef-herd.html.
Vitamin A deficiency is another factor to be considered in both drought and early weaning, according to Lalman. Vitamin A is one of the most important vitamins for supplementation.
“Vitamin A is necessary for proper bone formation, growth, energy metabolism (glucose synthesis) and the maintenance of skin and hoof tissue as well as for eyesight. Visual function is linked to visual purple in the eye when animals try to adapt from light to dark, ”Lalman said.
Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include night blindness, reproductive disorders, skeletal deformities, and skin lesions.
“The best source of this vitamin is beta-carotene, a pigment found in green plants that animals convert into vitamin A. When cattle graze on green grass, they get a lot of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiencies often occur during the winter months or drought Lalman.
Coccidiosis is also a major challenge, according to Lalman.
“We have had problems in the past when we keep calves locked up in a drying area for a long time during a stressful time and not use a coccidiostat. We had no problem controlling the disease as long as we included the additive, ”Lalman said.
The bottom line is that weaning can be successful and calves can be efficiently raised to normal weaning weight in a dry run, Lalman said.
“While early weaning is certainly not recommended as standard practice, it should be useful in times of drought when purchased feed can be fed directly to the calf more efficiently than to the lactating cow. Early weaning can also give ranchers the chance to achieve high conception rates in cows that need to be thinned in other ways, ”Lalman said.