Calf management strategies involving pasture weaning coupled with maternal contact (i.e., fence-line weaning) have been recommended as possible best-management practices for minimizing weaning stress and reducing subsequent feedlot morbidity compared with drylot weaning. Recently a study was done to evaluate the effect of fence-line or drylot weaning on the health and performance of beef calves during weaning, receiving, and finishing.
At weaning, calves (average weaning age of 180 days) were assigned one of three weaning methods:
- drylot weaning + complete visual and auditory separation from dams
- pasture weaning + fence-line contact with dams
- pasture weaning + fence-line contact with dams + supplemental feed delivered in a bunk.
All calves were individually weighed at the time of maternal separation and were given initial vaccinations against respiratory pathogens. In addition, all calves were treated for internal and external parasites. Booster vaccinations were administered 14 days later. At the end of the 28-day weaning period, all calves were shipped four hours to a feedlot.
Body weight of drylot calves was greater than that of pasture weaning or pasture weaning plus supplement at the conclusion of the 28-day weaning period. This was expected since the diet for the drylot calves was formulated for higher gains. Providing supplement to pasture fed calves was intended to accustom pasture-weaned calves to eating out of a bunk rather than to promote gains that were competitive with drylot calves.
Following the 28-day weaning period and a four-hour transportation event, calves on all treatments began the receiving phase of the experiment. Calves were observed at the time of feeding during the first six days of the receiving period in an attempt to ascertain their desire to eat from a bunk. A greater proportion of drylot than pasture weaned calves came to the bunk at the time of daily feed delivery during the first 5 days of receiving. Drylot calves had greater average daily gains than either pasture weaned calves to day 60 in the feedlot.
In this experiment, the health of drylot weaned calves was not different from that of pasture-weaned calves. Adoption of preconditioning management practices by the cow-calf segment of the beef industry has been relatively slow (e.g., 49.8% of cow-calf producers sold their calves immediately after maternal separation.
Dry-matter intake of steers assigned to pasture was not different from that of drylot or pasture plus supplement during finishing. Pasture weaned steers gained body weight at a greater rate and had greater feed efficiency during finishing than drylot steers or pasture plus supplement steers.
Body weight at slaughter was not different among treatments. Under the conditions of the current experiment, the pasture weaned steers appeared to fully compensate for previous nutritional restriction during the finishing period. Moreover, USDA yield grade, marbling score, percentage of carcasses grading USDA Choice or greater, did not differ among treatments.