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Ranch Management: Quick Tips For Easier Calf Weaning

weaning beef calf best practices
A healthy calf is the first step to a profitable cowherd, and one of the biggest challenges cattle must overcome is weaning. Here are tips for a stree-free weaning in your cowherd. 

Vaccine best-practices

Once weaning time is here, keep Beef Quality Assurance guidelines top of mind. Here are some basic vaccine-handling precautions to ensure effectiveness of the vaccine:

  1. Read the label.
  2. Purchase fresh vaccines and store them in a refrigerator. Never use an outdated drug or vaccine.
  3. Modified-live vaccine (MLV) begins to lose effectiveness after about an hour, so don't mix too much vaccine at one time. Because direct sunlight also degrades products, keep vaccines and syringes in a cooler when working cattle.
  4. Don't use the same syringe to inject MLV and killed products. A trace of killed product can harm MLV product effectiveness.

After calves are weaned and being backgrounded, monitor the calves for signs of cattle diseases. Gerald Stokka, former Kansas State University Extension beef veterinarian and current Pfizer senior veterinarian, says in most cases the cause of treatment failure is not treating an animal early enough during the course of the illness.

"It's important to recognize the behavior of healthy animals," Stokka says. For instance, healthy animals should be bright-eyed, have a good hair coat, demonstrate curiosity, and be grooming themselves and others.


Appetite can also be a big indicator.

"Bunk management is critical. A lot of times with high-performing calves, the temptation is to feed the daylights out of them. But we can push calves too much and create respiratory disease by the way we feed them. So it's important to monitor historical feed intakes," he says.

Monitor for sickness

Calves with droopy ears, dull haircoats, poor appetites, runny eyes and nose should be pulled, have their temp taken and be further evaluated and treated if necessary. Stokka says 101.5° F. is the normal temp for a calf. However, in feeding situations, up to 103° can be considered normal because environmental temps can influence rectal temps of calves. Thus, on a hot day, calves might have a slightly higher temperature.

To gauge an animal's response, monitoring temp alone after treatment isn't enough because a fever may persist for a few days after treatment. Instead, weight gain is one of the most important things to pay attention to. (Thus, it's a good idea to have scales on your chute.)

"If the animal is back on feed and gaining after treatment, that's the best indicator," Stokka says.

Parasites can also suppress appetite and the immune system, so ensure parasite control is part of the health program both at the ranch and in the feedyard, he adds.



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