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Midwest/North: Managing fall-born calves

Erika Lundy for Progressive Cattle Published on 23 August 2019

Many fall-calving herds may have calves on the ground already. Fall-calving cows and young calves are at risk for heat stress, and excessive heat can lead to lethargic calves at birth.

Providing adequate shade helps both young calves and their dams better regulate body temperature during hot spells and through the stressful process of birth.

The beginning of the calving season is a good time to make some management decisions to determine the outcomes of the calf group. Work with your veterinarian to determine health protocols to ensure a healthy, weaned calf.

While a bull calf will likely weigh more than a steer calf at weaning, when that bull calf is finally castrated, he will suffer from increased stress and be more susceptible to morbidity and mortality in the feedlot. Research has shown males castrated after weaning have decreased carcass weights and carcass quality compared to males castrated within the first few months of life, indicating late castration will negatively impact feedlot performance. Feedlots have recognized this risk of buying intact males; therefore, there is often a discount associated with buying bull calves compared to feeder steers.

Fortunately, through the use of a low-dose estrogen implant, a steer calf implanted as early as 60 days old will have comparable weaning weights to males left intact through weaning.

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to inventory available feedstuffs. Feed supplies may dictate when calves should be weaned in order to reduce cow intake and requirements and proportion remaining feeds. With fall-calving herds, early weaning (90 to 120 days old) may make more sense due to weather impacts on requirements. It’s often more efficient to feed the calf directly than to feed the cow to feed the calf.

Having a plan for weaning allows for better timing of vaccination programs and marketing of calves to ensure less stress on the cow, the calf and the producer.  end mark

Erika Lundy
  • Erika Lundy

  • Extension Beef Program Specialist
  • Iowa Beef Center - Iowa State University
  • Email Erika Lundy

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