By Amanda Young
We have reached the time of year when many cow-calf producers are preparing to wean their calves. This also means your calf crop is about to undergo one of its most stressful stages of life. Cow and calf stress can be displayed through increased vocalization, walking fences and reduced feed intake. These behaviors can lead to reduced daily gains, increased health problems and increase death rates.
Some of the stress associated with weaning includes the change of diet, termination of nursing, separation from the dam, a new environment (feed, water and shade sources) and the need for new social structure following the removal of the adults from the group.
No matter the separation method you choose, precautions can be taken to maintain performance and reduce illness during this stressful time. Preparing calves in advance of actual weaning has benefit well worth the effort. The following are three steps you can take to help your calf crop succeed.
1. Develop vaccination program. Work with your veterinarian to determine the best vaccination regimen for your herd. The immune system is often suppressed during times of stress, and because of this, many veterinarians suggest that vaccination protocols and management procedures such as branding, castrating and dehorning be completed well in advance of weaning. This not only lessens the stress at weaning, but also improves immune response to the vaccines and anthelmintics.
Additionally, do not forget to keep proper vaccine handling methods in minds. The highest-quality vaccines and antibiotics are useless if not handled and administered properly.
2. Introduce proper diet. Introduce calves to their postweaning diet before weaning. Make sure the postweaning diet is appropriate for the age of calf, including forage quantity and quality, and contains a vitamin-mineral mix and plenty of fresh, accessible water. Make sure they can safely reach water and know how to drink it. If the calves are unfamiliar with drinking water from a trough, let the water overflow a bit so it makes a trickling sound.
3. Wean before moving. Wean your calves in the pen or pasture in which they are currently being housed, and move the cows to a new location, if possible. If you wean in a pen or pasture in which your calves are not familiar, they must handle the stress of not only being separated from the dam but also finding their new source of food, water and shade. If you have to move calves to a new location, make sure they are familiar with the waterer type and feeder styles available.
Help your calves get off to a strong start after weaning by being aware of the stressors they are facing on weaning day. Make your weaning plans well in advance, and think through the methods and precautions you can use on your farm to reduce the stresses of weaning. The quicker your calves can adjust to their new normal, the faster they will grow and the healthier they will be.
Young is the agriculture Extension educator in Dodge County, Wis. This column is provided by the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Wisconsin Beef Information Center.