If cow’s milk is the best feed for a calf, why is it necessary to wean?

Weaning allows a producer to:

Manage the body condition of the breeder cow

A cow that produces 8–10L of milk a day requires almost twice as much energy or feed as a dry cow. If energy from the pasture is insufficient for milk production, the additional energy comes from her own fat reserves. A lactating cow will lose body condition if her total requirements aren’t met. A cow who is losing condition will also struggle to get back in calf.

Reduce the amount of supplementary feeding to breeders

Ideally, cows should calve with a body condition score above 3.0 to have the maximum chance of getting back in calf within three months. At the time of weaning, breeders should already be back in calf. Weaning will then ensure the breeder’s energy requirements are reduced and she enhances her ability to calve at her optimum body condition. It’s also cheaper to feed a weaner than a mature cow.

Maximise cow's milk production in the next lactation

All calves should be weaned, regardless of the cow’s condition. On good quality pastures this could be at least two months prior to the birth of the next calf. This will ensure the cow’s next lactation isn’t compromised and some weight gain and body condition is achieved.

Educate and train young cattle

Weaners benefit from being yarded, handled by humans and familiarised with various feeders, feeds and rations. These processes expose young cattle to different environmental factors and common practices will help them to get used to new experiences.

Establish specific mobs/lines of cattle according to age and weight

Targeted mob management facilitates marketing and feeding strategies. This can reduce subsequent mustering and drafting costs, which can help cattle to meet Meat Standards Australia (MSA) requirements.

If the practice of weaning is understood and managed properly, producers can ensure their cattle are set up to be superior performers.