How do you get very young, early-weaned calves to eat when it's brutally hot outside? K.C. Olson, Kansas State University associate professor of cow-calf nutrition and management, offers some thoughts from his experience with calf-nutrition programs.

He says his "step-up program" has produced outstanding results with eight different sets of calves over the last several years. Details of the diet changed from year to year but the principles of managing water and feed intake have stayed basically the same.

Olson likes to provide water in large (more than 300-gal.) open-top tanks. Position the tanks perpendicular to the fence line so calves will naturally collide with them as the circle the pen. One 500-gal. tank can be split between two adjacent pens. He cleans the tanks every 2-3 days.

"Producers shouldn't expect newly-weaned calves -- especially early-weaned calves -- to be able to drink an adequate amount of water from a watering device they have no experience using," Olson says.

Olson's suggested step-up weaning feed program is based on tight control of intake. Its goal is to have early-weaned calves consuming about 1.7% of their body weight (DM basis) of a 65-85% concentrate ration seven days from the time they're weaned. In recent studies, he used a sorghum grain-based ration to feed early-weaned calves. "Other rations with similar characteristics would work about as well," he says.

For a basic concentrate ration he uses:

  • 50% rolled sorghum grain.
  • 25% corn gluten feed (loose).
  • 15% chopped hay (3-in. particle size).
  • 10% whole raw soybeans.
  • A "custom" supplement containing minerals, vitamins and ionophores.
"Our hay is good-quality, 10-12% crude-protein prairie hay chopped in a standard round-bale processor," Olson explains. "Our calves are 130 days old and weigh just over 300 lbs. when weaned."

Feed is offered once/day at 5 a.m. His suggestions below are on an "as-fed" basis. Here's the seven-day step up plan:

Day 1: Wean early in the morning and expose calves to feed that afternoon. Offer each calf 1.5 lbs. of concentrate, 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement and 1.5 lbs. more chopped hay. The concentrate goes into the bunk first, the supplement second, and the extra hay on top. After 23 hours, sweep the bunks clean -- discarding any remaining feed.

Day 2: Offer 3 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs of custom supplement and 3 lbs. more chopped hay. The feeds are placed in the bunk as they were on day one. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 3: Offer 3.5 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement and 2.5 lbs. more chopped hay. The feeds are placed in the bunk as they were on day one. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 4: Offer 4 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement and 2 lbs. more chopped hay. The extra hay goes into the bunk first, the concentrate second and the supplement on top. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 5: Offer 4.5 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs of custom supplement and 1.5 lbs more chopped hay. The feeds are placed in the bunk as they were on day four. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 6: Offer 5 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs of custom supplement, and 1 lb. more chopped hay. The feeds are placed in the bunk as they were on day four. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 7: Offered 6 lbs./head concentrate and 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement.

Each day thereafter, feed bunks are read at 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. When feed is consumed by 6 p.m., an additional 1/4 to 1/2 lb. of concentrate is added to the next day's feeding. Sweep bunks as needed to keep fines to a minimum.
-- Clint Peck