National Drought Mitigation Center

Early Weaning

One of the biggest things you can do is get that calf off that cow. That saves some more grass… it’s like getting rid of 1/3 of your cows. I’m not dead sure on that, but I think it’s close to 1/3. It doesn’t hurt that calf. He doesn’t lose that much. Your costs probably go up as now you’re graining it and haying it and those things, but you don’t lose much on that calf. He’ll keep on growing. However, we don’t wean early during a non-drought year. When we hear people saying that their calves do better when weaned early, that tells me that they’re running out of grass.

Advantages of Early Weaning

(source: Ivan Rush, UNL)

  • Allows for more efficient feed utilization during drought
  • More cows can be carried on a limited feed supply
  • Excellent feed conversion of early weaned calves can result in cheaper gains
  • Reduces herd energy requirements
  • Helps cows to cycle earlier and improves rebreeding rates

Disadvantages of Early Weaning

  • Calf management and nutrition must be excellent
  • Labor, facilities, and feed must be available for feeding small calves
  • Seedstock cattle must wean within defined age windows for breeds to accept data

Cow Requirement - Lactating and Dry



Hay Eq







Dry Early Preg










Wean earlier

  • Age of weaning will depend on operation
  • Decrease demand and cost of cow maintenance
    • Cow intake is 25% greater when lactating

Considerations when to wean

  • Forage availability and quality
    • Cow condition
  • Marketing of calf
    • Season of year
    • Carcass Quality 
  • Costs and opportunity for early weaned calves
  • Bias

Another thing is that I’m sure to keep all my pre-conditioning supplies in stock and on hand just in case it gets to dry and I need to wean early to cut down on the grass need. I didn’t really do that before, but will now.

Fence Line Weaning

Early weaning can be stressful on calves, but pasture or fence-line weaning – putting the cows across from their calves with a strong fence or electric wire between them – can reduce stress because calves can still have nose-to-nose contact with their mothers plus consume some grass that they are already accustomed to.

  • Appears to reduce stress
  • Allows weaning out of dusty conditions
  • Put cow in dry lot for 2-3 days