Short term calf removal

Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist

Cows that were in marginal body condition score at calving may benefit slightly from the management practice called “short term calf removal”. “Short-term calf removal” is the term that describes the temporary physical separation of the calf from its mother. This removes the nursing stimulus from the cow for about 2 days. Removal of the suckling stimulus for at least 48 hours will allow a few “borderline” cows to return to heat cycles earlier than they would have normally.

Removal of calves for 48 hours has shown to improve rebreeding rates of moderately conditioned (Body Condition Score=5) cows by 4-8%. (See table 1.) This improvement although, seemingly small in magnitude is large compared to the out-of-pocket investment. Short-term calf removal can be used at the first of the breeding season or in the middle or both depending on the labor situation. Short term calf removal is not a powerful enough stimulus to "jump start" very thin cows. Those cows that are in a body condition score of 4 or less may need to have the calves weaned completely to allow the cow to recycle early in the upcoming breeding season. The care of the calf during that 48 hours is actually quite simple. Most producers will make certain that calves have access to some "sweet" feed and plenty of fresh drinking water. The calves will eat very little during this time.

Table 1. Summary of 3 trials comparing 48 hour short term calf removal to cow/calf pairs that were traditionally suckled. (Simms, et al. 1982 KSU Cattleman's Day)


Number of Cows

% Pregnant at palpation

Calf A.D.G. from treatment to weaning

Control (normal suckling)




Removed 48 hours




Those cows that calve in the Body Condition Score 6 or fatter can be expected to return to estrus early in the breeding season and should have high rebreeding rates (without early weaning or short term calf removal). Although not harmful, the practices of early weaning, short-term calf removal, or feeding extra feed will NOT show significant advantages for these well-conditioned cows. Therefore producers will want to continue their normal lactating cow supplementation programs until green grass provides the nutrients that these cows need.

Concerns about calf health and growth are disspelled by comparing the average daily gain over the entire time of calf nursing. Those that were removed from the cows for 48 hours grew as rapidly and had similar weaning weights as those who were never removed from their mothers. Occasionally, calves nursing very high milk production cows will scour after the two day separation. Rarely is this a problem with commercial beef cow two and three-year olds because they are usually limited in milk production. Very good fences and a watchful eye are important ingredients in a successful outcome with short term calf removal. Remember, short term calf removal is NOT a “cure-all” for cows that are quite thin at calving .

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