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ARS Home » Plains Area » Miles City, Montana » Range and Livestock Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #281637

Title: Economics of early weaning in Northern Great Plains beef cattle production system

item Mulliniks, J
item Waterman, Richard
item Geary, Thomas

Submitted to: Agricultural Sciences
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/10/2013
Publication Date: 5/15/2013
Publication URL:
Citation: Mulliniks, J.T., Waterman, R.C., Geary, T.W. 2013. Economics of early weaning in Northern Great Plains beef cattle production system. Agricultural Sciences. 4(5):219-223.

Interpretive Summary: In extensive arid and semi-arid environments, interannual precipitation is highly variable and drought situations can commonly occur. During these drought situations, forage supply is reduced, pressuring cow-calf management to consider appropriate stocking rates and their effect on acceptable reproductive and calf weaning performance. Results from this study suggest that early weaning calves during years of good quality and quantity of forage are not as profitable as normal weaning due to increased production costs. However, during years of drought conditions, early weaning and feeding calves in a drylot could potentially be a cost-effective management decision compared to selling light-weight calves at early weaning. Furthermore, for early weaning to be an economically viable option for producers, improved reproductive efficiency would have to occur during drought conditions to overcome increased production costs. Early weaning can reduce net income in the short term; however, avoiding overgrazing and reducing the need to liquidate the cow herd may have greater long-term financial benefits.

Technical Abstract: Early weaning is a management option for producers to consider during extended droughts. Early removal of the calf from its dam reduces forage needs of the cow-calf enterprise and has been found to improve BW gain and pregnancy rates in the cow herd. However, early weaning may not always be economically viable for producers and the risk should be heavily considered. This study was conducted to evaluate the effect of early (approx. 80-d) and normal (approx. 215-d) weaning of steer and heifer calves on net income at weaning and costs of heifer development. Calves from predominantly Angus x Hereford dams were stratified within dam age and calving date and were randomly assigned to one of two weaning treatments. Calves were either early weaned (EW) at approximately 80-d of age or remained with their dams until normal weaning (NW) at approximately 213-d of age. Calves assigned to EW treatment received a 17.5% CP and 0.82 Mcal/kg NEm diet for approximately 130 d. At approximately 213 d of age, NW steers were gathered and brought into lots and fed for 30-d with EW steers before all were sold to a commercial feedlot. At normal weaning, replacement heifers were developed in a drylot for an approximately 206 d developing period. All economic analyses were conducted at normal weaning for both NW and EW calves. At normal weaning, price of steers ($US/kg) was lower (P = 0.003) and weaned steer value ($US/steer) was greater (P < 0.01) for EW steers; however, no difference (P = 0.18) was found in price of heifers ($US/kg) and weaned heifer value ($US/heifer) between NW and EW heifers. Weaning strategy feed cost was increased (P < 0.001) in EW steer and heifers compared to NW calves. Net revenue for both weaned steers and heifers was reduced (P < 0.001) in EW calves due to the increased feed cost of the growing diet. Weaning strategy did not influence (P > 0.51) costs associated with heifer development. In the partial budget model, total revenue was decrease by 19% by early weaning and growing calves in a drylot until normal weaning compared to revenue generated from normal weaning calves. The improvement in pregnancy rate from early weaning resulted in a 2% increase in total revenue in the subsequent year after early weaning. This study indicates that early weaning calves at 80 d of age decreases weaning calf value and net revenue for the cow-calf segment. However, this decrease in income can be offset if reproductive performance of the cow herd is improved by 19% from early weaning.