Following last week’s PCC Update, we received several questions about late weaning and why we choose to leave calves on their mothers over the winter. 

 For starters, it’s natural.   In nature, there is no herdsman to wean the offspring.   In fact, when a doe gives birth to a fawn, there is often a yearling not far away.   Along with mimicking nature, running one herd requires less time, labor and money.   Late weaning will allow the calves to learn what to eat, what not to eat, where to find water and how to survive harsh winters.   Late weaning will also allow the calf’s rumen to fully develop.   This increased rumen development will result in increased feed efficiency leading to better body condition and improved fertility. 

 Dr. Anibal Pordomingo, from Argentina, has research showing that the average cow digests only 50% of what she ingests.   He suggests that leaving calves on their dams until 10 months of age can results in a 15 to 20% increase in rumen efficiency.   This increase in rumen efficiency would allow a cow to digest 65-70% of what she eats. 

 Several producers are having great success wintering calves on the cow and weaning at 10 months of age.   Below is a list of the reported benefits observed:

  • 16% less fed feed in winter
  • 5-10% increase in average body weight following winter
  • 5-10% increase in fertility/conception rate
  • Grassfed cattle finished in 22 months vs 27 months

 In addition to the results listed above, I believe producers will see improvements in herd health.  The immune system is developed and maintained in the gut.   If the increased efficiency in the rumen leads to greater mineral uptake, then it is reasonable to believe herd health will improve.

 I am fully aware status quo producers will scoff at the idea of wintering calves on the cow.   Most will say it can’t be done.   With mainstream genetics, they are 100% correct!   Tall, lean, high-maintenance cows, will quickly fall apart without expensive supplementation.   It is amazing what can be done with the right genetics!


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