EARLY WEANING OF CALVES:
A POSSIBLE OPTION IN DRY YEARS
Larry K. Bond
On good feed, a calf will gain about 1.75 pounds a day while on its mother.
Although we have no research data to evaluate, it is known that weight gains
drop off considerably when milk production drops. This happens when ranges are
dry and feed is scarce. Under these circumstances it may be more profitable to
wean calves earlier than usual. This could be anywhere from mid-summer to early
fall. Calves taken off their mothers during the summer would likely be fed.
Those weaned in the early fall might be sold at weaning or fed for a month or
This article looks at some of the ramifications and economics of early
weaning. It is based in part on research conducted in Montana (Staigmiller and
Adams). At this stage, we are not recommending early weaning. We only present
this as an option that should be considered.
Economics of Early Weaning
The budget on the following page is based in part on the Montana study.
Calves were fed for another 84 days after weaning. Rolled barley, which gave the
best gain in Montana, was fed along with alfalfa.
To make a proper evaluation, something has to be assumed about expected
weight gains if calves are left on their mothers. This could vary considerably,
depending on the year. Assuming an average gain of 1.75 pounds per day if left
on their mothers, it does not appear profitable to wean early and feed. Although
the weight gains were achieved at $.26 per pound, the added value of a calf is
less than the cost of putting on the gain. At lower rate gains while on the cow,
it could be profitable.
Break-even Rate of Gain
Due to a lack of knowledge about rates of gain, it is difficult to do an
accurate analysis. Probably the most important line in the budget is the last
line showing the Break-even rate of gain. Based on the data in the
budget, a calf would have to gain less than 1.68 pounds a day while on it's
mother to make it profitable to wean early and feed. It would not take much of a
decrease in feed availability for weight gains to drop below this level, since
typical gains on good range is only about 1.75 pounds a day.
It should be pointed out that no labor costs or medical expenses were
included in the budget. Some range operations have no facilities for feeding
calves. If facilities have to be built, this would represent a fixed cost that
should be included in the budget. These additional costs would increase the cost
per pound of gain and change the break-even rate of gain.
Example Budget - Early Weaning of Calves
|Number of days on feed||84|
|Average daily gain if weaned and fed||2.20|
|Average daily gain if left on cows||1.75|
|Pounds of grain per calf for feed period||669|
|Pounds of hay per calf for period||169|
|Price of rolled barley per cwt||6.20|
|Price of hay per Ton||70.00|
|Number of calves to feed||100|
|Hours of labor per week for entire lot||0.00|
|Value of labor per hour||0.00|
|Estimated medical expense per calf||0.00|
|Estimated selling price per cwt||95.00|
|Total pounds of gain if weaned and fed||184.80|
|Total pounds of gain if left on cow||147.00|
|Estimated additional value of calf||35.91|
|Total cost of grain per calf||41.48|
|Total cost of hay per calf||5.92|
|Total cost of feed per calf||47.39|
|Cost per pound of gain||0.26|
|Additional value of calf over feed cost||-11.48|
|Break-even rate of gain if left on cow||1.68|
When calves are left on their mothers, under poor range conditions, it has a
detrimental effect on the cow. Survival rate decreases, especially in severe
winters. A cow that is in poor condition at calving will usually raise a lighter
calf. Conception rates could be lower than normal which decrease the calf crop
the following year. All of these factors combined could have a significant
influence on production beyond the current year.
In years of moderate reduction in feed, cows might hold their own but the
calves might gain very little. Prices received for calves in mid-September,
before the majority go to market, could be higher. If expected gains are very
low the last 6-8 weeks, it might be profitable to wean and market early if
feeding is out of the question. It is hoped that sufficient data can be
collected in the next few years to allow a more accurate evaluation of the
possible benefits of early weaning.
April 21, 1988 earliwea.cow