Article Summary: Managing drought, dwindling resources and the rising cost of feed are on the rise. Early weaning can be a fantastic cost-effective tool to manage drought and the depletion of high-quality resources. However, if you don’t execute it well, it could harm your livestock's performance and survival rate. From maintaining herd fertility to increasing your marketing potential and conserving water, this article shares the benefits of weaning beef calves early and why you should consider it for your farm.

Modern farming techniques have given rise to smarter, more efficient and ethical ways to manage a farm. Factors that have grown more concerning in the last century are managing drought, dwindling resources and the rising cost of feed. With this, farming bodies have suggested that early weaning of beef calves can greatly assist you if your feed supplies are limited and if you want to cover yourself in a drought.

Why wean beef calves early?

There are several strong reasons for choosing to wean your beef calves early. Coupled with the reasons below, experience shows that these are effective and proven. But you must plan and execute any weaning correctly. Otherwise, you might experience the opposite of what you intended. 

If done right, through weaning early:

  1. You will maintain your herd’s fertility

The most cost-effective way of maintaining cow condition is to wean early and prepare the animals for their next calving. You’ll measure your cows’ conditions by fat score, which will help determine readiness for calving at the next joining.

If their fat score falls below 3L, they will be in optimum condition for cycling and conceiving. They will be able to maintain adequate body condition throughout calving and their initial lactation period.

  1. You can allocate supplementary feed

Did you know that it is more economical to feed high-quality supplementary feed to cows and calves if they are separate, rather than from cow through to calf? 

Where you have only high-cost, high-quality feed (or pasture) to give your herd, it is far more ideal to do so if more calves are weaned from their mothers. Transmission of nutrients through lactation is less effective than feeding high-energy, high-protein supplementary to young growing calves. Lower-quality, dry feeds can then be given to dry cows, ensuring they consume your feed most efficiently.

  1. You can utilise your high-quality pasture

Do you have limited high-quality pastures?

Like the above point, supplementary feed is far more efficient and affordable to feed growing cattle directly than from mother to calf through milk feeding and loss of nutrients through this process.

Additionally, if you have weaned calves early, you can move those cows to lower-quality pastures while you free up higher-quality, lush fields for growing juveniles. This is especially convenient if faced with large amounts of tussock or crop stubble, prevalent in times of drought. It will also ease the pressure off pastures via grazing and erosion.

  1. You can increase your marketing value and capabilities

Managing early weaning can also go a long way to helping you recoup lost finances, especially in times of drought. But it’s also a great way of capitalising when times are good too. 

You can benefit from early sales of dry, empty or aged animals. Firstly, you will see a decrease in feeding requirements as a direct result. By selling early, you’ll also be able to minimise the amount of cull stock, and you’ll be commanding a higher price through selling when your animals have greater body condition.

In addition, you will also have the option of selling your calves earlier.

All these perks add up in the long run, and you’ll be able to enjoy an increased cash flow, allowing you to procure more supplementary feed sooner.

  1. You can conserve water

Did you know early weaning cuts the water requirements of a farm by 60%?

A cow with a dependent calf consumes up to 100 litres of water daily. Her calf drinks around 10 litres of water daily in addition to its milk consumption.

After weaning, the cow reduces her intake to approx 45 litres per day, and the calf rises to 15 litres. This results in a total reduction of between 30-50 litres of daily water consumption., which is significant in times of drought.

But there are a couple of things to remember…

Early weaning can be a fantastic cost-effective tool to manage drought and the depletion of high-quality resources. However, if you don’t execute it well, it could harm your livestock's performance and survival rate.

At worst, you may interrupt the cycles of your cows and underfeed groups of cows within your cohort, all affecting the condition and survival of your herd. From a financial perspective, getting the balance wrong might see valuable feed and high-quality pastures misused, the overuse of energy requirements or lower-quality stock sold for lower prices due to sub-par body condition.

Early weaning may not be the right solution for every farmer and their unique livestock situation. From understanding your:

  • Calving period

  • Target market

  • Labour situation

  • Budget, to your

  • Feed situation

…it’s important that you consider all your options before you make the decision that is best for you, your herd and your beef production system.

Until we meet again, Happy Weaning!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2022-12-15