Calf Weaning 101: Workshop shows value of pre-conditioning calves
By Ray Bowman
(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, September 21 issue)
It’s football season and every successful coach has a game plan. It’s also weaning season for some and a successful cattle producer needs an effective game plan to maximize herd profitability.
The University of Kentucky recently sponsored the Weaning 101 Workshop at Eden Shale Farm in Owenton. The remnants of Hurricane Irma were making their way through the area, so participants endured a light rain and cooler than normal temperatures to pick up some tips on pre-conditioning and nutrition.
“We know that weaned calves have more value,” according to Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, UK extension beef cattle specialist. “The market reports show us that time and time again.”
Lehmkuhler notes that Kentucky has a long history of supporting a certified pre-conditioning program that has demonstrated added value for participating producers. “This Weaning 101 Workshop is designed to help folks think about taking that next step and adding that value to these feeder calves as weaned calves,” he said.
Participants received some hands-on, chute-side experience processing calves including proper vaccine handling and injection site, de-worming, implanting techniques and ear tagging.
There was also hands-on training on grading feeder cattle. “They learn how to look at feeder calves and think about how they might be graded when they go to market,” Lehmkuhler said.
Classroom time at the workshop included nutrition discussions about supplemental feeding and hay quality needed to produce acceptable rates of gain.
Dr. Steve Higgins from UK was also on hand to show participants how Eden Shale has handled housing and environmental management, such as capturing rainwater off the roof of a barn to store water for livestock.
“When we wean calves in open pens, that soil temperature can get relatively hot if we don’t have shade,” Lehmkuhler pointed out. “Dr. Higgins is showing them some of the shade structures and looking at a high-traffic pad where these calves can stay out of the mud, particularly when we have rains that can make things a little difficult this time of the year.”
Producers in the Commonwealth may face a few hurdles when it comes weaning time, Lehmkuhler acknowledges. “One is the unpredictability of the weather, and there’s sometimes a lack of labor to help get cows up and work them.”
Lehmkuhler also says producers need to take the time to make sure their facilities are in order, with everything functioning properly and no holes in the fences. “It’s a stress on the grower if he’s worried about cattle getting out and getting on the road because we haven’t done a good job of maintaining our fences.”
Planning ahead and exercising a few safeguards can make life a lot simpler for the producer when it comes weaning time. “Really, it can be pretty low-stress if we do our homework and we plan.”