When to Wean Calves 

when to wean calves

Weaning calves is a critical process in cattle management. Deciding when to wean calves is dependent on several factors, including the breed of cattle, production goals, cow-calf health and environmental conditions.  

At BioZyme®, we believe in care that comes full circle. There is no other time that calves feel as much stress as at weaning. They are no longer being mothered. Calves are converting from a milk-based diet to a forage- or grain-based diet and learning to live life on their own. It’s often similar to sending your kid to college or kindergarten and expecting them to fend for themself for the very first time. 

That’s why our team has created this guide about when to wean calves and how to make weaning as stress-free as possible, for the calf, the cow and the producer. 

So, let’s start with when to wean calves

Typical Weaning Age 

6 to 8 Months 

This is the most common weaning age for calves in typical cow-calf operations. By this age, calves have generally begun to eat solid food, and their rumen is well-developed to process forage and grain. 

Early Weaning 

4 to 6 Months 

Early weaning can occur in specific scenarios, such as when the cow’s health is at risk, there’s limited pasture or environmental conditions are poor. It can also be used to manage the cow’s body condition or improve reproductive efficiency. 


Early weaning can improve cow body condition, reduce stress on the cow and increase breeding efficiency.  

“If you have a cow that is losing weight or one you want to keep from getting too thin, you pull that calf off early, because there is nothing that will suck the condition off of a cow faster than a really big, heavy old calf on her side,” Cassady said.  

Although the lactating cow, trying to breed back benefits greatly from early weaning, the calves also can benefit from early weaning. Some studies suggest that early weaning and feeding the calf directly, rather through the lactating cow, can help increase weight gain efficiency as well as putting on intramuscular fat. 


Early-weaned calves may require more intensive management and supplemental feeding to ensure proper growth and development. Both of these can cost more in times of financial resources and labor. 

Gain Smart Helps with Weaning 

Are you looking for a way to put healthy, efficient pounds on to your fresh-weaned calves while providing them with the vitamins and minerals they need? Give them the Gain Smart® minerals they need to succeed.  

You can buy Gain Smart from your local BioZyme® dealer. Locate the dealer nearest you today.  

Learn more about the advantages of Gain Smart further down in this blog or on our website.  

Factors Influencing When to Wean Calves 

Calf Development 

Calves should be in good health, with a healthy body condition and well-developed rumen function. A good indicator is whether the calf is eating solid food and gaining weight independently of the dam’s milk. Pay attention if the calf is grazing alongside its mother, eating grain when the cows are fed or licking a mineral tub or consuming any loose mineral. These are indicators that the calf’s rumen is developing, and the calf is ready for weaning. 

Cow’s Condition 

The condition of the dam plays a role in determining when to wean. Remember lactation requires extra energy from the mama. If she isn’t receiving adequate nutrition for her to lactate and grow another calf, or if she is losing condition or not recovering from lactation, earlier weaning might be necessary. This may be especially necessary when you’re dealing with the first calf heifers. They’re still growing, and all too often we find them a bit thinner than their mature counterparts. 

Production Goals 

If the goal is to breed back cows quickly or synchronize calving, weaning might occur earlier to allow the cow to recover and return to breeding condition. Early weaning often has several benefits that we will discuss a little later in this blog. 

Environment & Pasture 

Environmental factors, such as pasture quality and availability, can influence weaning time. In drought conditions or when forage is limited, earlier weaning may be beneficial. In years when forage is readily available, you will probably want to wean calves on a typical 6-to-8-month timeline.  

Health & Disease 

If there’s a health concern or risk of disease transmission, weaning may be needed earlier to separate the calves from potential sources of illness. 

Marketing & Management 

The reality of caring for cattle is that when to wean calves will depend upon your business. Weaning times may align with specific marketing or management plans, such as preparing for auction sales or transitioning to feedlots. Also, in times of an upward trending market, it makes sense to wean early and sell for an improved return on investment. 

“The way we see the markets trending this spring, early weaning is a viable option,” said Chris Cassady, Ph.D., BioZyme Director of Beef Technical Sales. “When inputs are high, yet there is a demand for the calf market, it makes sense for these producers to wean a little earlier than normal to increase their bottom lines.” 

Best Practices for Weaning 

Low-Stress Weaning Methods 

Fenceline Weaning  

Fenceline weaning or gradual weaning is the least stressful method when weaning calves from cows. With fenceline weaning, you separate the calves from their mothers and penned across the fence from their dams where they can still see and hear one another. Research proves that calves will eat more and put on pounds faster when using the fenceline method.  

Day Weaning  

Day weaning is a gradual weaning method. The cow and calf are separated during the day and reunited in the evening for a window of time so the calf can nurse in the morning and evening. This method is most common with livestock exhibitors who are getting calves broke and ready to show.   

Two-Stage Weaning 

Producers have the option to two-stage wean their calves by implanting a device that prevents the calf from nursing its dam. A calf is fitted with a nose ring and remains with the cow for up to two weeks before they are permanently separated. Plenty of published research has shown reductions in vocalization and stress-induced movements using this method. 

However, this is obviously the most costly, labor-intensive system. It requires calves to be gathered and processed through the chute twice. Some producers have reported lesions in the nostrils from the nose ring. If these areas get infected, the low-stress progress made may be offset by another required treatment.  

Low-Stress Handling 

Use low-stress handling techniques to minimize anxiety and aggression during weaning. Avoid working cattle during the heat of the day, if possible and use a corral system and working crew that understands low-stress handling and that has been BQA certified

Health & Vaccination 

A major factor of when to calves is when they get their vaccinations. Ensure calves are vaccinated and in good health before weaning to reduce stress and disease risk. It is imperative to keep these young calves as healthy as possible prior to weaning. Cassady suggests getting calves their proper vaccinations or vaccine boosters about a month prior to weaning. Because each geographic location and situation is slightly different, consult with your veterinarian on what exactly you need. Most pharmaceuticals offer a 7-way or 5-way vaccine to treat multiple bugs. You will also want to worm calves when you vaccinate them.  

“If you wait until weaning to vaccinate, that will cause extra stress on the calves. Their immune system is going to be compromised in the first place, and the extra stress will impact the effectiveness of the vaccine, so plan ahead,” he said. 

Nutrition & Water 

Provide high-quality feed and clean water to support calf health and growth during weaning. Of course, nutrition is crucial to eliminating your calves’ stress and continuing its post-weaning performance. It is especially important to keep that post-weaning gain going if you sell them as yearlings. It is vital to keep their diets somewhat consistent with what they have been accustomed to.  Cassady said that a huge, significant diet change will only add to the stress and confusion, so plan accordingly.  

If the calves have been on a total-grass diet, you don’t want to feed them much grain; however, you do want to offer them high-quality hay or forage, to continue them on a consistent diet. And if you’ve had them on creep feed while they were still with the cow, continue the same creep feed for a 2- to 3-week period post-weaning while transitioning them to a grower ration. 

Set them up for success with BioZyme’s 3-3-1 approach: three products, three steps, one profitable result. 

Gain Smart® Offers 3-Step Approach  

“Besides birth, this is the time that will really set a calf up for performance potential for the rest of its life. Keep them on a positive plane of nutrition. If too much damage is done, you’ll always have a chronically sick calf. You will constantly be behind and be spending money on more feed for it. That is where Amafem’s technology is so crucial and helpful in that transition period,” Cassady said.  

Step 1: VitaFerm® Cattle Drench  

VitaFerm® Cattle Drench with the Vita Charge Technology is the first step to successfully weaning your calves. This drench for cattle is designed to support digestive health before, during and after challenges. Contains AO-Biotics® Amaferm®, a prebiotic research-proven to enhance digestibility. 

Cattle Drench also contains MOS (mannan oligosaccharides) helps normalize the gut microflora and supports the immune system and enzymes to generate a more rapid digestive response.  

Using this drench as you process the calves at weaning helps keep their gut healthy and functioning. We know that 70% of the immune response starts within the digestive system, so a healthy gut will lead to a healthy animal.  

Step 2: VitaFerm® Stress Tubs with the Vita Charge Technology  

VitaFerm Stress Tubs with the Vita Charge Technology help eliminate stress when offered to calves 14 to 21 days post-weaning. This tub for cattle is designed to support digestive health and intake and contains Vita Charge Technology including Amaferm and MOS. It also contains a probiotic to help restore the gut microbiome. The Stress Tubs are not minerals but can work along with your mineral program.  

The Vita Charge Technology, found in the Cattle Drench and Stress Tubs, is comprised of a unique blend of ingredients to help support animal health before, during or after the stress. Every product with Vita Charge Technology contains an exact amount of B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, zinc, MOS and Amaferm. 

In addition, a precisely defined salt-to-sugar ratio was developed and incorporated into the technology to support hydration. This combination provides an undeniable impact to livestock under stress  

Step 3: Gain Smart®   

Gain Smart® is a line of free-choice vitamin and mineral supplements for stocker cattle that promotes healthy, economical pounds. With four different formulas based on your management scenarios, this mineral is designed to maximize efficient gain.  

Gain Smart contains Amaferm, organic copper, iodine and zinc for maximum bioavailability and hoof health. It also provides nutritional support for a healthy immune system. It can be fed as a loose mineral or mixed into a ration.  

Wean the Gain Smart Way  

Overall, the ideal time when to wean calves varies depending on your specific circumstances and management goals. The key is to ensure the health and well-being of both the cow and the calf while aligning with your operational needs. Research shows that calves that are fed just 4 ounces of Amaferm daily are likely to increase gains by ¼ of a pound per day. More efficient gains lead to faster-gaining, healthier calves.   

Follow the 3-step approach with VitaFerm products, which feature Vita Charge Technology, and complete the program with one of our Gain Smart minerals.  

Get Your BioZyme Products Today!  

Are you looking to incorporate these three products into your weaning program? You can buy BioZyme products from one of our dealers. Find a BioZyme dealer near you. 

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