Early weaning was one option drought-ravaged producers in Texas employed last year. Many will have to do it again in 2012.

Ron Gill, Texas A&M University Extension beef specialist, says some producers who early-weaned calves in his area sold them right off the cow, while others kept and fed them.

“Some people don’t have the time, facilities, manpower or resources to put young calves on feed. Luckily, those lightweight calves are bringing high prices, but selling them that small really cuts down the price per head, and the number of replacement heifers you’d have.” It can be an emergency tactic, however, to save feed and enable cows to breed back again, or not have to cut cow numbers so much, he adds.

“Some people severely affected by the drought just sold their calves early, to reduce nutrient requirements for the cows and forage demand – just to keep as many cows as they could,” Gill says.

A few people weaned 30- to 90-day-old calves and tried to feed them just long enough to sell to a stocker program. They put the really young calves in a drylot, starting them on a 16-18% protein ration and taking them to 300 lbs., at which time they were turned out on pasture, if it was available, Gill says.

This past year, young calves often stayed in backgrounding yards, because of the shortage of forage, until producers could find a feedyard to send them to. “Most producers who sold them as light calves sold them right off the cow, because of the heat and the feed shortage,” he says.

“Feed availability, even for mixed rations, has been somewhat limited in Texas, just because so many commodity products were purchased by feed manufacturers to make their regular cubes and other rations. It became difficult to find feed for weaned calves,” he explains.

“This year will be a problem also, because we won’t have any roughage until summer. Some producers will be able to early wean and some won’t, due to lack of feed resources. We’re encouraging people to have a plan and make sure they don’t miss the breeding opportunity for next year because the market will probably be good. They need to get as many calves on the ground the next several years as they can,” Gill says.