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The term “Early Weaning” tends to be used rather loosely in the Beef Industry, and producers can find many articles claiming benefits of early weaning. A few questions arise. How early is early weaning? Is there economic benefit to weaning early? We will address these questions in this paper.
At the Range Beef Cow Symposium XIV, Whittier (1995) categorized early weaning as 1) weaning before the start of the breeding season (birth to 90 days) or 2) weaning during the breeding season (90 to 160 days). Weaning calves before the start of the breeding season has shown to improve reproductive performance of cattle during the year in which calves are weaned (Geary et al., 2006; Lusby et al., 1981). Improved reproduction can be due to removal of the sucking stimulus and/or from improved energy balance of the cattle. Cattle that are in marginal to thin body condition score at the start of breeding may benefit more than well conditioned cattle (Whittier, 1995). Weaning calves late in the breeding season likely will not yield any improvements in reproduction during the year in which calves are weaned.
While calves can be weaned at 60-100 days, more intense calf management is necessary, making the practice unpractical for many producers. Recent worked out of Miles City, MT showed that calves weaned early at 80 days and put on a growing ration until herd-mates were weaned at about 215 days resulted in the early weaning system having significantly less net income than the normal weaning system (Waterman et al., 2006). Weaning towards the end of the breeding season, 120-160 days, is more practical and can have benefits in certain situations. This paper will focus on time of weaning calves from 120 days and beyond.