Performance of Early-Weaned Calves

By Justin Waggoner, beef systems specialist, Garden City, KS

Under normal production circumstances calves are typically weaned at 180-220 days of age, however under circumstances where forage supply is limited or cow body condition is lacking weaning calves at 180 days of age or less may be one of the easiest ways to reduce cow nutrient requirements and improve cow body condition. Many cattle producers express concerns over the thought of weaning 350-450 lb calves during the heat of the summer and believe that early-weaned calves will not perform well in a dry lot environment. In a recent study (Bailey et al. 2013) conducted at the K-State Agriculture Research Center-Hays, 243 spring-born calves were weaned at 113 ± 17 days of age and were limit-fed a common diet to achieve target average daily gains of 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0 lbs per day during an 84 day receiving period.

The results of this study are summarized below.

Targeted ADG, lb/d
Item, 1.0 2.0 3.0 SEM
Weaning BW, lb 342 342 346 17
Ending BW, lb 443a 470a 509b 12.8
ADG, lb/d 1.21a 1.52b 1.94c 0.095
DMI, lb/d 5.93a 7.67b 9.52c 0.001
Feed:Gain1 4.81 5.03 4.88
Incidence of Fever, % 4.89 6.05 5.85
a,b Means within rows without common superscripts differ (P ≤ 0.05)
1Analyzed as Gain:Feed

 

Although we were unable to achieve the target ADG of 3.0 lbs/day (which is a rather lofty goal), the calves in the 3.0 lb/d treatment group gained 1.94 lb/d, consumed 9.5 lbs of dry feed per day, exhibited a feed conversion of 4.88:1 (feed:gain) and weighed 509 lbs at the conclusion of study (197 days of age). Additionally, over 5.0% of the calves exhibited clinical signs of illness and were treated. The results of this study demonstrate that early-weaned calves are capable of utilizing dry feeds, and have a tremendous capacity to convert feed resources into gain in a dry lot environment.

One of the keys to successfully managing newly-weaned calves (early or conventionally weaned) and achieving acceptable levels of feeding performance (~ 2.0 lb/d ADG) is getting calves to consume dry feed.  See this past BeefTips article for suggestions on a feed management protocol for weaned calves regardless of age.

For more information contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

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