After weeks of above-average temperatures, it finally felt like fall this weekend. It was cool and crisp for weaning day on Saturday at our operation in South Dakota.
Because our cattle are kept in multiple summer pastures, we spent the better part of the week loading the pairs and bringing them home in preparation for weaning. From there, we group the entire herd and sort the calves from the cows. Immediately following, we work the calves -- castrating, dehorning, deworming, vaccinating and collecting weaning weight data.
Ideally, we would precondition the calves before weaning to reduce stress, and we would also wean on pasture, where the calves could be nose-to-nose with their mamas across the fence. But our reality is that working and weaning on the same day works the best for us. Because our calves have received creep-feed over the summer, they typically walk off the scale after being worked and head straight for a feed bunk.
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In our experience, calves that know how to eat are less stressed at weaning time. Additionally, because we ride through the pastures on a daily basis during the summer, the calves are used to people. As a result, being around us once they are in the lot isn’t as big of a stressor as it would be for calves with little exposure to humans. Our calves do bawl for a couple of days, but they also get on a feeding schedule within that same time period, with very few balking at the bunk.
Obviously no two operations are alike, and while there are many studies that point to various weaning methods being the best, every ranch has its own method of weaning calves. I’m curious to know which method works best for you.
This week’s poll on beefmagazine.com asks, “How do you wean your calves?”
With 120 votes so far, 58% say you isolate the calves away from the cows but with a fence between. Another 22% isolate the calves as a group away from the cows. Just 13% say they wean calves on the truck; 6% leave the calves with the cows and use anti-nursing devices; and finally, 2% have “other” methods for weaning.
Many readers have weighed in on the discussion by sharing how they wean their calves. Here are a few statements from ranchers:
- “I do both -- isolate the calves from the cows and fence-line weaning. It depends on which pastures I'm weaning at the time. We have a large pipe corral with ponds that we normally wean the calves in as the cows are on another side of the ranch. But we have also weaned spring-born calves with the mothers in adjoining pastures. Both ways work. It’s just not ideal to haul the cows 5.5 miles to be next to the weaning trap. I also check the Almanac for best weaning days! It doesn't hurt to try for those days!”
- “By taking the calves off the cow, loading them into the truck, and taking them straight to the auction, you will make the most money. No shots, no needles, no syringes, no weaning, no losing weight for two weeks, no feed and grain costs, no sick calves. Just a much bigger paycheck with no headaches. If the feedlot would pay a cow calf man to do all of these extra things then it would be worth it. But we get paid by the pound and that is it.”
- “Calves are born in summer pasture. In the fall, cows and calves are brought up to the barn for the winter. In the late spring, we separate the cows to pasture and keep the calves at the barn. We continue feeding them as normal. The calves barely bellow; the cows make the most noise! The calves do not go off feed or lose any weight and seem much happier without the cows around.”
Let me know how you wean your calves, and be sure to vote and comment on the poll, too. I hope everyone has a prosperous calf crop this year. Good luck weaning those spring-born calves!
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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