Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Agricultural Economics

Major Professor

Dan L. McLemore

Committee Members

Emmit L. Rawls, John C. Waller, James A. Larson


There is sparse research literature in agricultural economics regarding early weaning as a potential alternative production/marketing strategy. The objective of this research is to estimate and analyze the impacts on net returns of alternative weaning dates for Tennessee cow-calf operations including alternative post-weaning treatments for calves.

The Decision Evaluator for the Cattle Industry (DECI) simulation program was used for this study to produce outputs such as calf numbers, gender, and weights, other output including cow weights and body condition score, both at calving and at weaning, and pregnancy percentages. Forty-two simulations were run for average and summer drought weather, weaning at an average age of 135, 165, 195, 225, 255, and 285 days and selling at weaning or after a 60 or 90-day drylot backgrounding period. Prices for steers, heifers, and culled cows from 1995-2008 were taken from market reports. Costs were derived from University of Tennessee Extension Beef and Forage Budgets and USDA-NASS. The outputs from DECI were combined with prices to result in total revenues. Subtracting the costs of feed, interest, veterinary and medical, and marketing resulted in return to land, labor, management, and risk to the enterprise.

The results of this study revealed that under average weather conditions in East Tennessee, marketing at weaning in November yielded the highest net return. Weaning in August and backgrounding for 60 days yielded the lowest net return with the base 90-cow herd.

Under summer drought conditions, marketing at weaning in August resulted in the highest net return. Weaning in November and marketing after a 90-day backgrounding period yielded the lowest net return.

Under the conditions used in this study, the only time early weaning makes economic sense is when herd size is increased for June or July weaning or under drought conditions when August (195 days) weaning and sale is optimal. Several limitations of this study imply that additional research is required on this topic before definite conclusions can be drawn.

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