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“The conventional weaning time has always been in the fall, when calves are around 180 to 210 days old, but there was no substantial research to show that that was necessarily the best time,” said John Jaeger, beef scientist with K-State Research and Extension, based in Hays. There were probably many factors at play over the years, including bringing cows home from summer pasture, fitting weaning into crop harvest, fall school activities and more.
“Newly-weaned calves require management, regardless of the age at weaning. Producers should have a management plan and follow it,” said Jaeger, who provided tips for producers based on the studies.
- Place an additional water tank and feed bunk in the pen with the calves.
- Remove floating covers from automatic water troughs.
- Pen calves based on their body size. Limit the weight range within a pen to no more than 50 pounds less or more than the average weight in the pen.
- Make sure each calf has at least 12 inches of linear bunk space.
- Make sure the feed bunk and water supply can be easily accessed by the calves.
- Consider air flow – especially in hot weather. Too little shade promotes crowding.
A follow-up study is currently under way, in which the researchers weaned calves from their mothers at between 120 and 160 days, with an average of 127 days, and split them into two groups. Half of the calves were left to graze on pasture and the other half were placed in a feedlot. At the end of 60 days in the separate environments, the weaned calves will be put back together as a group, fed a common ration up to market weight. In that way, the team will be able to evaluate how grass-fed calves fared in comparison to those fed a high-concentrate diet. Those data will be available in 2014.