The drought conditions have caused producers to change up many of their practices this year.
One of the changes includes ranchers weaning calves earlier than usual.
Calving season in North Dakota typically spans from late winter to early spring.
Now that the calves are a few months old, some ranchers are beginning to wean their calves off of their mother’s milk. Although a bit early, this practice is common during a drought year.
Zachary Carlson, the beef cattle specialist for NDSU Extension, said, “Weaning certainly is one of the most stressful times for that calf.”
The mother is also strained throughout the lactation process.
“Lactation in a cow is the highest protein and energy requirement that she’s going to ever have,” said Carlson.
By weaning the calf early, the mother will not need as much forage.
Carlson said, “We kind of actually can decrease our grazing pressure by about 25 percent by doing some early weaning.”
Brent Stroh is a producer out of Tappen who weaned his calves early this year to help with the impacts due to the drought.
He said, “The reason why we probably do the early weaning is to just generate the income. If we would’ve just sold these cows with the calves we probably would’ve got, they’re older cows, so probably about 1,200 a pair.”
Although early weaning can have its downside.
Carlson said, “Possibly, with drought, it may be summer pneumonia, with the dust and everything like that. Once again, depending on the environment you choose to do some of that early weaning, being conscious of that. So those dry areas and things like that certainly can be some issues.”
Stroh showed his calves that were just recently weaned.
“Due to the drought and the shorter grass and stuff, we decided this would be our first cut of cows that we’d leave home. These calves weighed anywhere from 320 down to 200 pounds. With these ones is we’d set out 16 protein creep feed. And we got them started, and we just weaned them on that. And we’ll keep them on that 16 prote’s (protein) until the feed’s gone,” said Stroh.
Producers say that early weaning can be an effective tool if it’s used correctly.
Experts also say to make sure your calves are vaccinated and prepared for the stresses of weaning.