October 2, 2012

Weaning Time Again - Just a little Early

The drought has effected us at the farm in many ways this summer.  We made a decision a few months ago (back in late June) that we were going to have to wean the calves early this year.  With that decision came a couple of other very important decisions that needed to be made on what how long we would feed the calves and what would we need to do to make sure we have enough feed for both the calves and the cows till next summer.  It was a tough decision to make as feed supplies are short this year and purchasing extra forage is going to be expensive.  We know that by weaning our calves on the farm plays a huge part in setting our calves up for success as they make their way from our farm to your plate.  Many farmers in our area have had to sell their calves early and in many cases have sold some if not the majority of the cows as well because they do not have enough feed for them.  By having a plan early we were able to purchase enough "extra" forages to get us through till next summer with the hope and prayer that we will get some moisture between now and then so that we will have grass to graze next summer.  
Semi load of purchased wheat straw bales.  This will be mixed with wet distillers grain, vitamins and mineral to make a nutritious diet for the calves.  Farmers use millions of tons of crop residues (left over plant parts after the grain is removed) to feed cattle.
Just like with every other mammal in the world wild or domestic there comes a time in the youngs life where the mother will wean them from getting the majority of their nutrition from mothers milk to consuming an Adult like diet.  Calves can be safely and effectively weaned from the mothers as early as 45-60 days of age.  There is challenges of weaning calves that early and much more care to diet/nutrition, housing, and husbandry practices need to be taken.  Not that when weaning an older calf these things can be thrown out the window.  Younger calves have different needs than an older calf and we have to take that into consideration when weaning.  Typically at our farm we try to wean the calves between 5 and 6 months of age which for us is late September.  They will weigh around 500-550 pounds at that point in time.  This year due to the lack of rain which resulted in a much lower production in the grasses that inhabit our summer pastures we needed to remove the calves about a month earlier.  By removing the calves, there will be more grass for the cows to graze because the calves are not there eating it and the cows feed requirement will decrease due to no longer lactating.  The energy requirement of a 1200 pound cow will decrease by about 25-30% by removing the calf at this stage of her production cycle and her daily feed intake will decrease by about 5-8%. 
We finished weaning the last group of calves over labor day weekend.  On weaning day our schedule looks something like this:

Coal is ready to get the show on the
road with the last group of calves
to wean.
 1- get up before daylight, to get the pickup hooked to the trailers, the horses and 4 wheelers loaded, and check all the tires.  Temps were reaching well over 100 degrees so we worked hard to get as much done as possible before it got to hot and caused more stress to the cattle.
2- head to the pasture and gather the cows and calves into the catch pens
3 - load the calves into the trailers
4 - weight the trailers with calves in them (this is used to determine the average weight of the calves).  By knowing what the calves weighed we can make adjustments to their feed needs and know how good (or not good) our cow herd is performing.
5 - "work" the calves (give them their booster vaccine and de-worm them)
6 - move the calves to their new home (the pens by the barn) where fresh feed and water waits for them.

Fresh bale of hay in the hay rack...  We use grass hay for the first week because
it is similar to what they have been eating in the pastures.  Due to the drought the calves are not as "fleshy" (ie fat) as they are on a "normal year.  Especially the calves who's 
mommas are getting up there in age...  They are still 100% healthy.  With the balanced diets they will receive it won't take them long to put some flesh on. 

Calves huddled around the feed bunk for some Dried Distillers Grain.  Even though this dinner table looks overly crowded their is another bunk 10 feet away that only had about 5 calves eating from it... Cattle are herd animals and like to stick together.

This year due to the "extra" stress that the drought and heat has put on our livestock we also gave our calves a shot of stress fighting minerals to help boost their immune systems and help them stay healthy.  We also took an extra week to wean the calves so that there were fewer calves in the weaning pen to help reduce the dust.  Normally we put out Availa-4 tubs which are a mineral tub that are high in stress fighting and immune building vitamins and minerals.  The tubs are very palatable and tasty to the calves so they will begin to lick on them almost immediately.  This year we are using a few more tubs than normal just to help the calves immune system stay strong with the extremely dry and dusty conditions.

This group had been weaned for a week and has been moved to one of the bigger pens.  Day 1 in the big pen and they already know to follow the tractor to the feed bunk!!! 

It was hot, dry and dusty this year during weaning so we have been paying extra attention to the health of the calves and their nutrition to make sure that we get them through this stressful transition from life on the pasture with momma to life in the pens and eating a well balanced diet from the feed bunk.
Availa-4 mineral tub that contains high levels of stress fighting vitamins and minerals for the calves to lick on.  These have molasses in them and the calves love them.  I have tried them (right after I pull the plastic cover off and before the calves have licked them) and they don't taste too bad.

The calves on the right were weaned about 4 hours before the picture and are exploring their new surroundings.

Curiosity is a key indicator that an animal is healthy and comfortable in their surroundings.  These inquisitive calves are greeting me at the gate to check out what I am doing.

1 comment:

  1. Great post and love the pictures! Every day in the fall I wake up and strain my ears to see if I can hear the bawling of newly weaned calves. It's so sad that all I hear is traffic. I miss the ranch so much during the fall! (and the spring, and summer, and winter...!)