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Measures of Herd Performance: Weaning Weight

Cow calf producers know that an increase calf weaning weight usually leads to an increase in calf value at weaning. Let’s discuss some different ways to look at weaning weights that may give us more insight to increase potential herd profitability than simply measuring weight weaned alone.

First, we will look at the “easy” measure of weaning performance…

Pounds Weaned: At the end of the day, cow calf producers sell pounds. A good measure of a cow’s performance lies within the actual and adjusted weaning weights of her calves. Actual weight is quite simple; this is the weight of an individual cow’s calf on the day it was weaned. This value is important to us, as it tells us what weight a cow actually generated to be sold. However, to look deeper into a cow’s potential for weaning heavy calves, we should look at the adjusted weaning weights of her calves. This takes cow age as well as calf age, birthweight, and sex into account, and better allows us to determine a cow’s performance potential. Let’s look at an example:

Once we know our weaning weights, we can take steps to improve these numbers through better genetics and management.  It’s important to realize that that both weaning weight measurements are important. Cows with high adjusted weaning weights have the most potential to wean heavy calves in your herd. On the other hand, the cow that calves early each year and weans the heaviest actual weight at weaning may not have the highest adjusted weaning weight. Her value equally important and is best highlighted through her ability to breed early. To move your operation to the next level you’ll want to seek out individuals excelling for both measurements as they’re likely the combination cows that bring home the most profit for you.

Knowing our herd weaning weights and adjusted weaning weights can be a very beneficial first step to increasing profitability. However, we can learn more about our herd’s productivity if we look past weights alone.

Therefore, it’s important to step back and look at a few additional measures of weaning performance…

Pounds weaned per cow exposed: It’s important to know not only our weaning weights, but also the percentage of our cows that actually wean a calf.  Cows that don’t wean a calf are feed-consuming members of our herd for at least part of the year, so we must account for them when evaluating herd performance. To learn the pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed, we look at both our calf weaning weight data and our herd’s ability to become pregnant and raise a calf to weaning. A good goal for beef herds is to wean 90+% of the potential calf crop. This means that if we had 100 cows, 90 of these cows would become pregnant, birth a live calf, and successfully care for it until weaning. As the percentage calf crop goes down, so does your farm’s pounds weaned per cow exposed and profit potential. Let’s look at another example:

We should also consider our cow weights…

Pounds weaned per pound of cow exposed: Your mature cow weights may be eating into your profitability. A mature cow will generally consume an additional 500-550 pounds of dry matter for every 100 pounds of added bodyweight. As the size of the average US cow increases, we need to account for this additional intake and make sure our bigger females are pulling their weight.  An 1100 pound cow that weaned a 500 pound calf has weaned 46% of her bodyweight, where a 1400 pound cow that weaned a 600 pound calf only weaned 43% of her bodyweight. Look beyond the raw weaning weight and ask yourself which cow is doing a better job. Reproductive performance in larger cows may also decline if their higher nutritional needs are not met; this could reduce your percentage calf crop weaned. Let’s look at a final example:

These are just a few ways to re-consider how you evaluate your herd’s weaning weights to add black ink to your profit equation.

Much of the above information is referenced from the following link. Click here to read more about assessing the efficiency of your beef cows.

If you have questions about calculating your herd’s weaning data or other ways to enhance your program’s profitability, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 256-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties