Weaning Management of Beef Calves

Courtesy of: Oregon State University

Weaning is considered one of the most stressful periods in the productive life of a beef calf. During the weaning process, calves are exposed to various stressors that include removal from their
dam, physiological changes (actively developing lean tissue or muscle), castration, vaccination, dehorning, exposure to novel pen or pasture environments, possible changes in feed and water
sources, and for many spring-born calves, exposure to season climate changes. These various stressors (individually or in various combinations) can result in tremendous challenges to the calf’s short-term and long-term health, gain performance, and economic viability. Calves that are sick or become sick during the first 30 days at the feedlot typically have lower daily gains, increased costs of gain and reduced carcass quality and tenderness (Fulton et al., 2002; Gardner et al., 1999; McNeill, 1999). Depending on how cow-calf producers market their calves, the aforementioned challenges can vary in their impact on the producer. Producers that retain ownership of their calves through the feedlot until slaughter are directly affected by all health and gain variables,
whereas producers that market calves at weaning may not see the post-weaning impacts but their reputation as a source of feeder calves may diminish resulting in reduced future weaning prices. From an industry perspective, how we manage our calf crop, pre-weaning, at weaning, and postweaning, can have dramatic effects on economic viability, consumer acceptance and end-product
quality.

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