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Southeast: Weaning is always the best way

Jason Duggin for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 June 2019

One of my dad’s favorite sayings was, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” When it comes to types of calf weaning methods, this phrase could easily be used.

However, my dad tended to tell me this when I was using the wrong method. In the South, operations are often times limited in terms of space, pens and sufficient fencing to hold curious calves. Thus, weaning in the Southeast can be a challenge.

For demonstration purposes, let’s look at two weaning types. Option 1: Gather the calves, load them on the trailer and ship them to the closest market or buyer. If your jaw just dropped out of your mouth, I don’t blame you. I’m not suggesting this is a good strategy, but it is a method that is commonly used. This is the old standard from days gone by, but some cattle are still managed this way.

What’s the cost of using this method? Well, the biggest cost is not being able to capitalize on selling a “weaned” product. Weaned calves are worth $20 to $40 more per head. You might ask, “Why are Option 1 calves cheaper?” This is an important question to consider. To ask it another way, who wants to buy bawling calves? It’s certainly not the feedlots.

Those are train-wreck scenarios riddled with respiratory breakouts and increased death loss. The answer: Those looking to cash in on the cheapest calves on the market. These buyers are willing to take on the risk of a highly stressed calf at a cheap price in hopes of “straightening” them out health-wise and then, over the course of a couple of months, selling them at heavier weights.

So what method is better than Option 1? Just about anything. Now let’s consider another option which can consist of weaning with nose-to-nose contact between calf and dam. This is ideal for reducing calf stress, bawling and sickness. After a typical 45- or 60-day preconditioning period, these calves will have an advantage at the market. They should also gain another 2 pounds per day, conservatively.

Combine that with a good deworming protocol, and there can be some serious payweight added to your sale ticket. Good weaning management is important and includes abundant, clean water; quality forage; a good growing diet; good shade; secure fencing and sanitary pen conditions. It’s not the only way, but it’s the best way.  end mark

Jason Duggin
  • Jason Duggin

  • Beef Extension Specialist
  • University of Georgia
  • Email Jason Duggin

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