It doesn’t seem all that long ago (mid-September), when our first-calf heifers began calving with no real rain until mid-November, and only 3 inches through the end of February, one of the driest starts to our rainy season on record. We fed a lot of hay and fortunately we had some dry feed leftover from the year before, but a tough start for a two-year old, first-time mother and calf.
Thursday morning, these steer and heifer calves leave for Connell, Washington for Agri-Beef’s Snake River Farms’ program to be marketed as American Kobe Beef where they’ll be fed for 400-500 days. This is our second load of Wagyu X calves and typically we take the calves from their mothers, weigh and sort steers from heifers, then load them immediately onto the truck. However, since we’ve increased the number of cows that we breed to the Wagyu bulls, the first-calf heifers are pastured in two different fields two miles away from our loading corrals and scales that requires us to haul the calves. Half of the calves pictured above were weaned Monday, the balance yesterday as they wait for the truck.
Weaning is a stressful time in a calf’s life, and stress can be measured in pounds, and hence in dollars. It can also leave them susceptible to various respiratory problems. For these calves, this is not an ideal scenario, but temperatures are relatively cool and we’ve sprinkled the dust down, hoping for the best as we feed good alfalfa hay morning and night.
The rule of thumb for the time to wean an English calf is a week, but over the years we’ve noticed that after three or four days they’ve forgotten their mothers. Compared to our English calves weaned off mature cows, the Wagyu X calves generally weigh about 200 pounds less, but their mothers at two years old put on another 200-300 pounds while raising their Wagyu X calves. Quite remarkable, when 30 years ago we wouldn’t breed a replacement heifer until she was two to avoid calving problems or stunting her growth—all due to genetic improvements.
Assuming weight is a measure of stress, I don’t believe the calves will lose that much weight. What may be a pricy experiment, we weighed the calves off the trailers to compare to the shipping weights Thursday morning to prove or disprove our hypothesis. We’ll see.