Early Weaning of Calves Can Increase Efficiency and Marbling, Studies ShowTue, 18 Dec 2012 11:59:52 CST
With 2013 right around the corner, it’s time for cattlemen to review their 2012 production calendars. Larry Berger with the University of Nebraska joins other scientists who say moving weaning ahead a few months may mean higher profits.
“We know that it’s cheaper to feed the calf separate than to feed the cow so she can lactate and then provide the calf the milk. So, typically, when we take the calves off the cow we will reduce that cow’s feed requirement by somewhere around 30 percent. And, that way, the quality of the feed can also be reduced because the dry cow can use a lower-quality grass and get by without losing body condition compared to one that’s lactating, trying to produce milk,” Berger says.
With feed and forage at a premium, reducing costs is essential.
“One might be concerned about the costs of these ingredients today, but, remember, that 300-pound calf normally will start out eating two to three pounds of concentrate per day where the normally-weaned calf, say, 500 pounds, is going to eat twice that amount. So, even though it’s more costly in terms of price per pound, actually the cost per unit of gain may be considerably lower than the older calf,” Berger says.
Altering the diet early at 150 days of age or younger actually changes their digestive system. The early-weaned calf has a smaller liver and gastrointestinal tract compared to conventionally-weaned counterpart.
“The liver and G-I tract count for about 50 percent of the maintenance requirement of an animal. So by feeding a higher-energy diet to these young, light weight calves we actually maintain a smaller rumen, a smaller G-I tract and that can reduce the maintenance requirements. So, it’s very possible we may improve the efficiency of gain in the feedlot even 200 days after that calf was early weaned,” Berger says.
This strategy also sets the animal up for success in the cooler. Studies show early weaning on a high-concentrate diet programs cells to put extra energy into marbling at a faster rate than conventionally-weaned calves.
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