If you google the word, “weaning”, here is what you will find:
Weaning is the process of gradually introducing a mammal infant to what will be its adult diet and withdrawing the supply of its mother’s milk. The process takes place only in mammals, as only mammals produce milk. (Google, Wikipedia)
When it comes to raising beef cattle, weaning is part of the process for calves around 6-8 months of age. Weaning is usually done on a 205 day scale but some producers choose to wean earlier and some choose to wean later. Weaning age is sometimes determined by market, weather, cow body condition, forage availability, and other factors on the farm.
Weaning occurs for several different reasons:
- Allows cows to gain body condition prior to next calving.
- The cow’s body can rest and requires less nutrients when dry and not producing milk.
- Colostrum can now be made for the next calf.
- So bull calves will not breed their mom and herd bulls will not breed their daughters.
This year, we decided to wean early (180 days) so our calves could be marketed in May/June after 45 days of preconditioning. Preconditioning involves weaning, completing a vaccine program, deworming, and teaching calves to eat feed out of a bunk. During this time, calves are fed by us so they get use to being around people and coming to the bunk.
Timeline from birth to weaning on our farm:
Calves are born in the Fall: September-November, they are tagged and birthdate is recorded.
Calves start to grow and learn how to eat hay and feed over the winter months as well as continue to nurse (milk is still a main part of their diet).
By the time the calves are 3 months of age they have been castrated (if they are a bull) and have received their first round of shots (respiratory and blackleg). Then, about a month later, they receive their second round (or a booster) of shots.
Then, around 6 months of age we typically wean our calves. Calves are weighed at weaning and moved to a different pasture where they can hear and see mom but cannot touch her. We have found that it usually takes 3 days and the calves are fine and bond well as a group.
Weaning and preconditioning takes about 45 days to ensure the calves are healthy and eating well without mom. Calves are fed free choice hay and feed on a regular basis. They also have access to graze in their new pasture. Calves will gain 2+ lbs./day during this time.
After the 45 days is up, it is time for the calves to go to their new home! Calves will continue to grow and will enter a finishing yard around 800 lbs. Most steers and heifers are finished and ready for harvest at 1200-1400 lbs. depending on the breed and frame size.
We always keep one steer back to finish for beef and two of our top heifers to keep as replacements.