In general, most US farmers will wean their calves at around 7 months of age. They normally make the decision on weaning time based on the calf's age, weight or because that is conventional wisdom. With that being said, in some cases, weaning earlier makes sense for the calf's and cow's benefit as well as from an economic perspective.
Here are some of the reasons why weaning early makes sense:
1. Drought or when forages supply are low
One of the main reason to consider early weaning is during summer drought situation as this would save valuable forages for your animals.
For each day an early weaning strategy is implemented, it help saves up to 10 pounds of forage for the cow. By implementing early weaning program 2 - 3 months earlier than conventional standards, this would help you save a good amount of quality forages.
Those extra forages saved could help increase the condition score of your cows during winter season as the cows will usually late in the second stage of pregnancy.
Early weaning will also help decrease the cow's nutritional requirements as she can shift her energy from milk production to gaining condition.
2. Hitting idea marketing window
Early weaning may help farmers hit a more lucrative calf marketing time, depending on what the cattle markets are signalling to customers.
In some cases, selling lighter calves may provide a higher price per weight. There is also a possibility that selling the calves earlier than typical months when calves are usually marketed means a higher price floor.
3. When there are too many cows or calves
One of the reason to wean early is when there are so many cows and calves on your farm that they could potentially be shortchanged on nutrients.
When forage is short in terms of quantity or quality, it is a good idea to start calves on a higher plane of nutrition by weaning them early.
With the 3 scenarios above, it is crucial to ensure that the early-weaned calves are on a quality nutrition program. These calves won't be able to consume a lot of feed as their rumen size is still small. However, their requirements per pound of body weight are high. Therefore, it is important to feed the calves with a high quality, nutrient dense complete feed.