Good calf weight gain is important when calves are first born, when they’re putting on fat reserves for winter, and when they’re being prepared for sale or slaughter. Cattle growers want calves to put on weight quickly to reduce carrying costs and increase profit at the sale barn.
How to make a calf gain weight? Some methods for ensuring good calf weight gain are simple, like extending weaning dates. Others require intervention and expenditure. Select a solution or combination of solutions to fit your budget and weight gain timeframes.
Newborn calf strategies
Step1: Time your breeding season so that calves are born in the late spring or early summer. When they begin grazing at roughly 1 month of age, they’ll have tender, nutritional grass to eat to help them gain weight.
Step2: Watch your newborn calf to ensure it starts to suckle soon after birth. If it does not, you may need to bottle or tube feed the calf its colostrum. Colostrum provides the calf with nutrients and energy to recover from the birth and to activate its digestive system and gain strength quickly. Colostrum also transfers the mother’s disease immunities to the calf, keeping it healthy and gaining weight rather than fighting disease.
Step3: Feed milk from a bottle instead of a bucket. According to Julius Ruechel in “Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef,” the kinked position of the calf’s head when it is nursing allows the milk to bypass the rumen and go straight to the calf’s second stomach. Bacteria in the rumen feed on protein in milk, reducing the amount of protein available to the calf for weight gain.
Step4: Allow your calf to nurse until it is approximately 6 months old. Delaying weaning to combine nursing with grazing increases the calf’s access to the protein and fat in its mother’s milk, improving its weight gain.
Growing calf strategies
Step5: Worm both cows and nursing calves instead of one or the other. Research published in “Beef Today” on May 18, 2009, indicates that worming both cows and calves can increase calf weight gain by 0.17 pounds per day over non-wormed cows and calves.
Step6: Employ creep feeding to increase calf weight gain. Creep feeding is a method of providing nursing calves with access to additional food, usually a grain mix, which adult cows cannot access. The added food helps the calf gain weight.
Step7: Pen your calf in a small grazing area so it does not burn too much energy moving around, ensuring weight gain is not lost.
Step8: Provide hay during the winter months when fresh grass is not available.
Step9: Use hormone implants to help a calf gain weight, as recommended by North Dakota State University. If you are unfamiliar with hormone implants for cattle, consult your veterinarian for assistance.