published in


May 2005

Feedlot Performance of Early-Weaned Florida Calves

John Arthington, Range Cattle REC
University of Florida/IFAS

Photo of Dr. John Arthington

For questions or comments regarding this publication contact: John Arthington 

Over the past five years we have been reporting on efforts to improve the performance of young cows through early calf weaning. In this system, calves are weaned from 1st and 2nd calf cows when they reach 70 to 90 days of age. In a fall/winter calving system, these calves grow very well on winter annual forages and supplemental feed. More importantly, the dams recover lost body weight rapidly and become pregnant soon after early weaning. Typically, we retain our early-weaned calves through the summer and market them along with the normal-weaned calves in August. Researchers in midwestern states have also investigated early weaning and have reported increased feedlot performance of early- versus normal-weaned calves. Due to the lack of winter grazing options, they typically place the calf directly in the feedlot after early weaning. In contrast, Florida producers have several winter grazing options to consider, suggesting that there may be an economic incentive for keeping the early-weaned calf on the ranch until the time of normal weaning. 

We recently published the results of a feedlot study, which investigated the growth and efficiency of Florida calves weaned at three versus nine months of age (early- versus normal-weaned). The early-weaned calves were kept on-site until the time of normal weaning, when all calves were loaded onto a truck and shipped together to a research feedyard. To simulate a typical haul to the southern high-plains, calves were hauled for a full 24-hour period. Our results showed that early-weaned calves had a considerable improvement in feed efficiency during the initial 28-day feedlot receiving period (feed:gain = 6.4 versus 12.3 for early- and normal-weaned calves, respectively). This improvement in feed efficiency was lessened during the subsequent growing period (84 days), but still favored the early-weaned calves (feed:gain = 6.3 versus 7.4 for early- and normal-weaned calves, respectively). There were no differences in feed efficiency during the final 120 day finishing period. The efficiency advantage, realized in the early months of feeding, was so significant that overall feedlot efficiency favored the early-weaned calves. No differences were detected in final carcass weights or measures of carcass quality. 

An important observation of this study was that no calves became sick and there were no differences in feed intake among early- and normal-weaned calves throughout the three feeding periods (receiving, growing, and finishing). Although the normal-weaned calves consumed the same amount of feed, they were unable to convert it into body weight gain as efficiently as the early-weaned calves. We attribute this difference to the fact that our early-weaned calves were more accustomed to feed, and they had been separated from their mothers for several months before shipping. Concentrations of stress proteins in the blood of early-weaned calves were much lower compared to the normal-weaned calves, further supporting the improved tolerance and performance potential of these calves. 

This new research continues to support the benefits of early weaning for young cows in Florida. Our combined data show that an early calf weaning system results in improved pregnancy rates, decreased calving interval, and increased body condition scores in young cows. Early weaned calves have been shown to be highly efficient while remaining on the ranch waiting the time of normal weaning. These new data now suggest that early-weaned, Florida calves have improved feedlot efficiency. For a copy of this recent study or more information on managing commercial beef cattle in Florida, please contact John Arthington, jdarthington@ifas.ufl.edu or call 863-735-1314.