early weaning Saves Time and Money By Aly McClure for American Dairymen Magazine
oing what you love makes it easier to get through lean times, but changing some of your production practices can help ease financial restraints.
Dairying is hard work, it becomes even harder when the markets are down and you aren’t sure if your next milk check will cover your expenses. But, one thing that dairyman are known for is their resilience through down times and their love for what they do. Dairying isn’t a job, it is a lifestyle, and when you love what you do it is easier to make it through the hard times. When margins are tight in the dairy industry, it is important to find ways to cut back on overall operations costs without jeopardizing health or production of the cattle. All aspects of dairying can be evaluated to either tighten up in extra expenditures or to change procedure slightly in order to realize cost savings in larger amounts over time rather than all up front. Depending on what your operation goals are will help you to determine where you can “get skinny” during times of lower
milk prices. One area that has been known for some time to cut back on operations costs is early weaning. But what early weaning means can vary based on the dairy or calf grower, with a range as wide as three weeks of age versus eight weeks of age. Where you fall on this scale is very dependent on several factors including availability calf care workers and how quickly you need to move calves through the cycle (hint: faster is not always better). The care in the beginning of a heifers life affects her through the duration of it. It can affect her caving ability, milk output, and overall health condition. As mentioned before, weaning techniques are very operation unique but there are some tried and true methods that should not be overlooked when changing or updating the way you handle this important factor in a heifer’s life. According to the Penn State Extension research
department, “If we can wean calves earlier, we can reduce the amount of milk replacer fed and be able to control the costs of raising calves, even if the milk replacer price remains high.” The question then becomes, what is too early and what is just right to make an obvious impact on your finances? Weaning is appropriate at whatever age would be 21 days post rumen development, or initial grain intake (Penn State Extension). Initiating grain consumption by offering fresh water and feed within a few days of birth will stimulate the beginning of rumen development. While it is possible to wean calves at 3 weeks of age, it is not recommended. The level of hands on care increases substantially requiring as much as hand feeding grain to encourage rumen development. Waiting a week longer, at four weeks of age has seen much more effectiveness for weaning. You should avoid making weaning decisions based on age alone, but also * Continued on page 28