(NAFB)--According to USDA studies - it pays to wean calves early when severe weather conditions like drought hinder beef cattle production. Animal Scientist Richard Waterman with USDA’s Ag Research Service in Montana - examines management options to minimize the effects of severe drought on rangeland livestock production. Working with local ranchers, Montana State University scientists and American Simmental Association collaborators - Waterman evaluated the early weaning of beef calves and the impact on cow, heifer and steer performance. Calves in two locations were weaned early at 80 days of age and at the more traditional age of 215 days. USDA reports cows that weaned a calf early weighed more and were in better body condition at the start of winter. As a result - the amount of harvested feedstuffs required for cows to maintain satisfactory body weights and condition throughout the winter were reduced.
Waterman concludes early weaning is a viable management option, presents fewer problems and allows producers to better control their production environment. He also demonstrated that early weaning increases the likelihood heifers will become pregnant on time the following breeding season.
In additional studies - early-weaned steers reached maturity sooner than traditionally weaned steers when body weight gain, feedlot performance and carcass traits were measured. He noted that management of early-weaned steers can directly impact how they grade at harvest. There were cases where early-weaned steers had poorer USDA yield grades because carcasses were too fat - but Waterman demonstrated that producers can maximize carcass value of early-weaned steers if animals are identified before they enter the feedlot and then harvested at an earlier age.