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Historically, early weaning has been considered one of those things you might have to do in drought years. We do it because the cow-calf pairs are not realizing their production potential when running on dried up rangeland. For the rancher that has invested in quality bulls and is producing high growth potential calves, the problem is the same, only the circumstances are different. In years when grass production is adequate, high growth potential calves are not receiving adequate nutrition to express their genetic potential. The typical management adjustment in this situation is to creep feed or pre-condition the calves. Either approach is intended to increase on ranch production and hopefully compensate the rancher for these more management intensive programs.
The question we had was why not make a clean break? If we want to feed the calves milled feed, why not put them in the feedlot and feed them? This could allow calves to express their full growth potential, moves the management burden from the ranch to the feedlot and may allow cows to go into winter in better condition. We evaluated this approach assuming the rancher would retain an interest in the high growth potential calves after they entered the feedlot to take advantage of their higher value. Feedlot performance and carcass value would then become an important variable for the rancher in the overall economic feasibility of early weaning.