Calves are very sensitive creatures. A small amount of change is enough to stress them out, and stressed calves can have health and growth issues. One of the more stressful points in a calf’s life is when they are weaned.
The time calves are weaned can vary greatly. On average, 6-8 weeks is the typical age for weaning. But the process can start up to 4 weeks according to some studies. Some people prefer to wean calves earlier because it helps to save costs with both labor and feeding, while not affecting the growth and development of the animal.
Whatever timeline you feel is best for your operation, the most important thing is to be organized and to pay close attention to the calves. The most important part of weaning a calf is to make sure their rumen is healthy and well developed before they fully wean. This process starts by having the calves feed on milk replacers and that amount will lessen when they begin a starter. Starters will help begin the fermenting process in the calf’s rumen. This allows the bacteria needed to produce their energy to grow. Having a developed rumen will ensure that calves can eat and process food on their own with no issues.
In addition to developing the rumen, calves need to have access to water at all times. The rule of thumb is for a calf to have 4 lbs. of water for every 1 lb. of starter they consume. The water mixes with the starter and creates the perfect environment for the bacteria needed to develop the rumen quickly.
No matter your method and timing of weaning, the most important aspect is to make sure the calves are getting the proper nutrients and resources needed to develop their rumen. Then they will be able to eat and process food on their own to continuing growing successfully.
Alderton, Sarah. “Weaning: Get it Right to Avoid Calf Disruption.” Farmers Weekly
“Early Weaning Strategies.” PennState Extension
Kertz, A.F., “Don’t Drop the Ball When You Wean Calves.” Hoard’s Dairyman