Short-term calf removal

Short-term calf removal allows cattle producers to combat the adverse effect Oklahoma’s wet, winter weather has had on the body condition of many cows this year.

An old trick of the trade, the goal is to bump up rebreeding rates in spring-calving cow herds. The process is most effective with young cows in marginal to moderate body condition, a four or five on the Body Condition Score index.

“Removing the nursing stimulus for 48 hours can improve rebreeding rates in these cows by 4 percent to 8 percent,” said Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock reproduction specialist. “It’s also relatively low-cost in terms of out-of-pocket expense.”

Most of the cost will be in labor from separating the cows and calves, and possibly the eardrums of the producer and his or her family.

“The calves are going to be bawling for their mothers, so holding them in a pen next to the house is probably not a good idea if you want to get some sleep,” Selk said.

Facility and management needs of the baby calves include a trap or pen that has a good fence, easy access to fresh water and a feeding bunk stocked with sweet feed. Although the price of feed can be relatively high, any cost is generally offset by the fact that the calves will eat very little while separated from their mothers. Most producers will only have to provide a single sack of feed during the 48 hours.

Short-term calf removal can be used at the beginning of the breeding season, or in the middle, or both depending on a producer’s specific labor situation.

“It’s not a powerful enough stimulus to jump start cows that are in very thin body condition,” Selk said. “Those with a body condition score of two or three may need to have the calves weaned completely to allow the cow to recycle early in the upcoming breeding season.”

Cows that calve in a body condition of six or fatter can be expected to return to estrus early in the breeding season and should have high rebreeding rates. Although not harmful to the animals, the management practices of early weaning, short-term calf removal or providing them with extra feed will not show significant advantages with these cows.

“Producers should just continue their normal lactating cow supplementation programs until green grass provides the nutrients these animals need,” Selk said.

Cows with a body condition score of six present a good smooth appearance throughout the body. Some fat deposits are visible in the brisket and over the tailhead. The ribs are covered and the back appears rounded.

An animal with a body condition of five will be moderate to thin. The last two or three ribs are visible, and there is little evidence of fat in the brisket, over the ribs or around the tailhead.

A cow with a body condition of four is thin, appearing angular and bony with minimal fat over the backbone, ribs, hooks and pins. There is no visible fat around the tailhead or brisket.

Studies show that calves removed from cows for 48 hours grow as rapidly and have similar weaning weights during the seven-month calf nursing period as those that are never removed from their mothers.

“Short-term calf removal is not a cure-all but it can help a bit and is generally a good return on investment,” Selk said.

Additional cow-calf management tips are available through the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at

TAGS: Livestock
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