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If you’re thinking about early weaning for the first time, specialists advise doing some advance planning, and talk with your veterinarian and a nutritionist about the appropriate programs.
Early weaning, particularly in a drought, usually entails hot dry weather. Heat stress must be taken into account when weaning and handling calves, as well as working the cows, Lardy says. That might mean shade for the calves, and plenty of fresh water is also important. Since some calves haven’t drunk from tanks or fountains, they need to learn how, he adds.
If you wean in summer, flies may be an issue. “If calves are penned, there are some control measures to reduce flies – whether it’s fly tags or a spray application. Some feedlots also use parasitic wasps to control flies that breed in manure. Flies are a stress you don’t want,” Lardy says.
Gill says last year was a bad year for flies in Texas. Horn flies can be controlled with tags or pour-ons, but cattle in pens (such as early-weaned calves) were also bothered by stable flies and face flies – and pinkeye was sometimes a problem.
“Another issue in drought is dusty pens,” Lardy says. “Find a way to manage dust because it’s an irritant to eyes (opening the way for pinkeye) and to nasal cavity and airways (contributing to respiratory issues). If you can, water pens periodically to keep dust down.”
If you’re early weaning, it helps to put cows and calves into a weaning pen or pasture a couple days ahead of time, so cows can show the calves where feed and water is, Lardy suggests. Some people use a trainer cow, or an older feeder calf, as a role model. The older animal teaches the young ones, and provides security in a leader/follower role.
When calves are weaned in pens, they circle the pen, trying to find a way out. “If the water source and feed bunks are located in the fence line, calves find them more readily,” Lardy explains.
“And, if you have time, it pays to castrate, dehorn, brand, etc., at least a couple of weeks ahead of, or after, weaning. Otherwise, you can compound the stress of weaning and potentially set yourself up for additional problems,” Lardy says.