Weaning time is just around the corner for our spring calving cows and as we prepare to separate our cows from their calves we should additionally prepare to evaluate certain benchmarks that represent our cow herd’s productivity and overall profitability.

 Weaning Percentage

One such benchmark that holds great economic importance to our cow herd is weaning percentage. Weaning percentage is calculated by dividing the total number of calves weaned by the total number of cows exposed during the previous breeding season.  This percentage takes into account the number of cows open last fall, cows that aborted, and the calves lost during or after birth due to such things as dystocia, disease, and predators.

Weaning percentage is a measurement that indicates issues with fertility and/or management that need to be addressed for the following cow production cycle. Cow calf producers should aim to have a weaning percentage of 83% or higher to maximize profit.

Average Cow Age

The average age of our cow herds is an adequate gauge for measuring cow longevity and stayability. Stayability is the percentage of daughters remaining in the herd after 6 years of productivity.  Average cow age is especially important when producers develop their own replacement heifers. It takes a cow weaning 5 calves to repay her development costs.

Having a greater longevity in our cow herd means fewer replacement heifers are required to maintain cow herd size. However, we need to be sure that our average cow age is not too old, as cows reach their optimum return on investment at 8 years of age for a commercial herd. We also need to keep in mind that our replacement heifers should hold a greater genetic value than our mature cows if we have been doing a good job with our genetic selections.

Average Age at Weaning

The average age of calf at weaning is directly correlated to cow fertility. Knowing the average age of calf at weaning signifies how many cows were bred within the first 21 days, 42 days, and 63 days. All cows should have been bred within 90 days of first possible exposure to ensure a uniform calf crop at the time of weaning. Uniformity adds value when marketing calves through feeder sales.

In addition, keeping cows within a 90 day window allows us as producers to identify the “unfertile Myrtles” of the bunch and eliminate them, saving us money and increasing our profitability.

Weaning Weights

Taking the time to collect weaning weights would be beneficial in monitoring the overall production of your cow herd. Knowing the average and range-in-weaning weights allows a cow-calf producer to better analyze the cows’ ability in milk production and genetic growth.

The range-in-weaning weights additionally gives the producer the ability to know the outliers. The outliers may signify a cow that is superior in production or it may signify one that is having fertility (bred back late) or production (genetic growth and milk) issues and may need to be managed differently or eliminated from the herd.

 Take Home Message

Through evaluating these few figures we can gain a better understanding of how our cows are producing under our management. These measurements can identify areas of success and/or those that need improvement. By understanding and managing any identified issues we can increase our cows’ productivity and profitability.


For information about the beef industry, visit the Wisconsin Beef Information Center at fyi.uwex.edu/wbic or contact your local extension office.

Source: University of Wisconsin extension

Written by: Amanda Cauffman, UW Extension Agriculture Educator Grant County, this article recently appeared in the Wisconsin Agriculturist.