Short Term Calf Removal May Help After Tough Winter
The long, wet and sometimes cold winter has left many cows in less-than-desirable body condition during this spring calving season. Lower body condition at calving equates to a longer time interval until the cows return to heat cycles to have a chance to rebreed. One management strategy that offers a small amount of relief from this situation is called short-term calf removal.
Short-term calf removal is the term that describes the temporary physical separation of the calf from its mother. This removes the nursing stimulus from the cow for about 2 days. Removing the suckling stimulus can encourage a few cows to start having estrus cycles a few days sooner than otherwise would occur. Removal of calves for 48 hours has shown to improve rebreeding rates of moderately conditioned (Body Condition Score 4 to 5) cows by 4-8%. This improvement, although seemingly small in magnitude, is substantial compared to the out-of-pocket investment. Short-term calf removal can be used at the first of the breeding season or in the middle or both depending on the labor situation. Do not expect short term calf removal to replace normal good nutritional management. Short term calf removal is not a powerful enough stimulus to "jump start" very thin cows. Those that are in a body condition score of 4 or less may need to have the calves weaned completely to allow the cow to recycle early in the upcoming breeding season.
The care of the calf during that 48 hours is actually quite simple. Most producers will make certain that calves access to some "sweet" feed and plenty of fresh drinking water. The calves will eat very little during this time.
Those cows that calve in the body condition score 6 or fatter can be expected to return to estrus early in the breeding season and should have high rebreeding rates. Although not harmful, the practices of early weaning, short-term calf removal, or feeding extra feed will NOT show significant advantages for these cows. In this situation, producers will want to continue their normal lactating cow supplementation programs until green grass provides the nutrients that these cows need.
There is a myth that time of suckling during the 24 hour day influences return to estrus. There are no data that would support day-only nursing or night-only nursing has any effect on post-calving return to estrous cycles.
Dr. Glenn Selk, Professor-Animal Reproduction Specialist
Animal Science - Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK