Tis the season: weaning time. As the fall season moves in, producers find themselves in a mix of wheat planting, fall harvest and, for the cattlemen, it's weaning time for the spring-born calves.
The following article was provided by Chris Reinhardt, Ph.D., Extension feedlot specialist.
The biggest hurdle in getting calves started off right in the fall is the weather. That's one reason to consider early weaning and subsequent backgrounding. If calves get through the stressful process of weaning from their dam and onto feed ahead of the annual late-October, 35-degree rain, they have a good chance at success.
Good quality grass hay is very palatable and a good way to attract bawling calves to the bunk. Don't use a bale ring; you'll just need to re-train them to the bunk later. After one to two days of hay feeding, limit hay consumption to about 1 percent of body weight (five pounds for a 500-pound calf) and top-dress three to five pound/head (for 500-pound calf) of the weaning ration on top of the hay. As calves consume this small amount of mixed diet, begin to further reduce the amount of hay you feed each day and increase the amount of mixed diet.
Caution: Increase the feed offered per head very gradually. Excessive consumption of even a moderate energy starter diet can cause acidosis in a calf that hasn't been fully adapted to grain. Increase the ration no more than two pounds/head every other day. If calves are hungry, feed one to two pounds of extra hay in the bunk. If stools become loose, you may have increased the ration too rapidly. If this happens, feed an additional one to two pounds/head of hay. Healthy calves should consume about 3 percent of body weight by 14 days on feed. Sick calves may take longer to reach this level of consumption. Gauge any changes you make to feed deliveries on cattle behavior and disease status — slower may be better in the long run.
You want to make the weaning diet as easy a transition for the calves as possible. You need to deliver energy, protein, vitamins and minerals, all in a form that they will readily consume. A standard mixture of 50 percent ground hay (grass or grass/alfalfa mix), 50 percent concentrate (including cracked or ground grain and starter supplement) can be fairly easy to blend and manage. However, if byproduct feeds such as wheat midds, soy hulls, distillers grains or corn gluten feed are available and inexpensive, they can be substituted for a portion of the grain component. Silage should be limited to less than 10 percent in the starter ration but can be increased in later step-up diets.
Avoid the temptation to skimp on quality of starter ingredients; also, avoid the temptation to rush the quantity of starter ration you provide for the calves to eat. When calves have consumed 3 percent of their body weight of the starter ration continuously for three to five days, you can move them up to the next step-up ration.
For more information, contact Chris Reinhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (785) 532-1672, or myself at the Finney County Extension Office at 272-3670.
Provided by Chris Reinhardt, Ph.D., Extension feedlot specialist, Kansas State University.