Here on our South Dakota ranch, we’re a few weeks away yet from weaning our calves, and it has me thinking about how to improve what we do, so calves experience the least amount of stress possible on weaning day. Depending on the outfit and its capabilities, there are many ways to wean calves, but which options are the best for reducing stress on the calves? Here are four tips for low-stress weaning.
1. Consider fence-line weaning.
Adele Harty and Ken Olson, South Dakota State University Extension cow-calf specialists, offer this advice for fence-line weaning: “For fence-line weaning to be effective, there are steps that need to be taken. First, place pairs in the pasture that the calves will be in following weaning so they become familiar with the fences and water in the pasture. Upon weaning, place the cows in the pasture adjacent to the calves so they can see, hear and smell each other, but the calves cannot nurse. This may require some modifications to fences to ensure the cows and calves remain separated. It may be valuable to place a cull cow or yearling with the calves to keep them from walking fences as badly. After a few days, the cows and calves will move farther from the fences and not be as concerned about being weaned.”
2. Use plastic nose tags to prevent calves from nursing.
A product called, QuietWean is a two-stage weaning device that dramatically cuts the amount of bawling and walking by both the calves and cows.
According to Burt Rutherford, who originally wrote about the product here, “The tag, or more accurately a nose flap, prevents calves from nursing, yet allows them to graze, eat from a feeder and drink. It's based on the concept, proven by research, that the stress of weaning comes from breaking the social interaction between cow-calf pairs, not from preventing the calf from nursing.”
Subscribe now to Cow-Calf Weekly to get the latest industry research and information in your inbox every Friday!
3. Introduce creep feed before weaning.
Even if you don’t typically creep-feed through the summer months, it might be beneficial to introduce creep feed in the final weeks before weaning. A calf that can belly up to the feedbunk right after being separated from its mom will likely be less stressed than one never been introduced to feed before that point.
According to Tom Hamilton, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Beef Program leader, “Creep feeding calves for the last 3-4 weeks prior to weaning will help to minimize the stress that affects calves at weaning by getting the calves used to eating dry/stored feeds. Minimizing stress will reduce disease problems occurring at weaning, reduce treatment costs, and enhance cattle performance post-weaning.”
4. Work calves before weaning time.
Although weaning is a stressful time for calves, running a calf through the chute to dehorn, castrate, vaccinate, deworm, etc., can also be stressful. Consider doing these things 3-4 weeks before weaning time.
According to Russ Daly, DVM, SDSU Extension veterinarian, “While stress reduction at weaning is usually thought of in terms of the actual weaning process itself, how the calf is treated pre-weaning can also help. Making sure stressful procedures are completed well before weaning is an example. Three to four weeks prior to weaning is a good time to work cattle in preparation for weaning. Castration and dehorning are less stressful at pre-weaning time compared to at weaning.”
Which methods do you implement to reduce stress at weaning time? Share your management practices and experiences in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
You might also like: