Comparing weaning dates for fall calving cows

By: Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist

Cow calf producers with fall-calving cows have options as to the optimum date to wean the calves.  Traditionally fall-born calves are weaned at an older age than spring-born calves.  Late summer grass will usually allow cows to regain body condition before the next calving season begins in early September.  Questions may arise about any benefit to weaning the calves at 7 months of age in April rather than wait until early July when they are 9 to 10 months of age.

Oklahoma State University animal scientists evaluated weaning dates of 158 Angus fall-calving cows over a 4 year period.  Cows were allowed to nurse their calves for about 210 days (April Weaning) or 300 days (July Weaning).  All cows calved in September or October and were weaned in mid-April (April Wean) or mid-July (July Wean).  April-weaned young cows had greater re-breeding percentages (98.4% versus 89.3%) than July weaned young cows.  However, there was no advantage in the re-breeding performance of April-weaned mature cows  compared to July-weaned mature cows (90.2% versus 96.7%).  April-weaned cows were heavier and fleshier at calving than July weaned cows.

Calves weaned in July were 90 days older and 204 pounds heavier (642 lb versus 438 lb) when weaned than were the April-weaned calves.  The April-weaned calves were allowed to graze native pasture after weaning and weighed 607 pounds in mid July.  For most years, it appears more advantageous to delay weaning of calves born to cows 4 years or older to July while considering April weaning for cows 3 years of age or younger.     Young cows in marginal (BCS=4) or thinner body condition would benefit from April weaning of the fall-born calves.  Source: Hudson and co-workers. Journal of Anim. Sci. 2010 vol. 88:1577.

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