Adding Weaning Weight to Calves

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

With higher beef cattle prices, livestock producers should capture all the weaning weight possible to calves. Producers can increase calf weaning weight by properly using growth-promoting implants, rotational grazing and creep feeding and by reducing calves’ exposure to parasites.

Using an unapproved implant or implanting more than once with an approved product can cause reproductive problems in heifer calves you may want to keep as replacement cows so avoid these mistakes on heifers. Steers can increase weaning weights if they are implanted properly and at the correct time, so follow label directions.

Once calves are three to four months old the majority of their nutrients should come from something other than milk. Rotational grazing will keep pasture in front of the calf fresh and vegetative at all times. This will increase both forage digestibility and daily gain.

Creep feeding concentrates to supply extra nutrition to calves can also help increase weaning weights. But, in truth, the most efficient method is to creep feed for the last 45 days prior to weaning. This stimulates growth almost as much as continuous creep feeding, and provides a low conversion of feed to additional gain for calves on grass-legume pastures. 

If the forage supply is plentiful, but not high quality in July and August, a limit-fed, high-protein creep feed will boost pasture intake and utilization resulting in increased calf performance. During drought when pastures are short but of good quality, a limit-fed, high-energy creep feed is preferred. Salt is a good method to control creep feed intake.

Pink eye and parasite loads will surely reduce calf weaning weights. You can lose 30 to70 pounds of weaning weight for every calf that has pink eye. Wet weather increases parasite exposure for calves. Parasite contamination decreases calf grazing and lowers dry matter intake and the nutrient use efficiency, resulting in lower weaning weight. Producers can control pinkeye and parasite loads through proper herd health management helping again boost calf weaning weights.

Damon Pollard
Extension Agent