Early Weaning of Beef Calves: A Drought Management Strategy on Annual Rangelands

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2018: $41,184.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: University of California Extension
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Dan Macon
University of California Cooperative Extension

Information Products


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial)
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - rotational, livestock breeding, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate, winter forage

    Proposal abstract:

    Increasing evidence suggests that climate change is increasing the likelihood of co-occurring periods of
    precipitation deficit and warm temperatures over the next century. Maintaining ecosystem function and
    agricultural productivity on rangelands during increasingly intense and frequent periods of drought
    presents scientific, economic, and social challenges. Rangeland livestock producers are often the first to
    feel the impacts of drought; these impacts can be especially pronounced on California’s annual
    rangelands (where the majority of precipitation and forage growth occurs in fall, winter and spring).
    Structured interviews of ranchers conducted prior to and following the conclusion of California’s 2012-
    2015 drought have highlighted the proactive and reactive strategies employed by ranchers to mitigate
    drought effects. While early weaning is a strategy used by significant numbers of ranchers, very little
    research has been conducted in annual rangeland systems to determine whether such a strategy is
    beneficial economically or ecologically. The broad goal of this project is to quantify the costs and
    benefits of early weaning as a drought management strategy for fall-calving cow-calf operations in
    California. We will quantify the influence of early weaning on forage resources, evaluate influence on
    cow and calf performance, and analyze the economic tradeoffs associated with early weaning compared
    to traditional weaning strategies.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overarching goal of this project is to work with fall-calving cow/calf ranchers to understand
    the potential net economic and environmental benefits of early weaning as a drought
    management strategy. Specific objectives include:
    1. Quantify the influence of early weaning on cow and calf performance, pasture utilization, soil
    protection, and plant biodiversity and examine how year-to-year variation in precipitation
    influences early weaning effects.
    2. Develop decision tools to help producers evaluate the economic and ecological tradeoffs
    associated with early weaning compared with traditional weaning strategies using data
    collected in objective #1.
    3. Create and deliver a basic decision support guide that synthesizes the economic and ecological
    tradeoffs with producer expert input to allow producers to determine how and when early
    weaning may work as a drought adaptation practice for a particular enterprise.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.