How to Low-Stress Wean Your Beef Calves.
Weaning beef calves is such a stressful, and honestly quite noisy, time for both the cow and the calf. There are many ways to wean calves, but which options are best for reducing stress on the calves? Based on your operation’s capabilities and programs, here are four helpful tips for low-stress weaning.
1. Consider Fence-Line Weaning
Upon weaning, place the cows in the pasture adjacent to the calves to that they can see, hear, and smell each other, but the calves cannot nurse. This may require some modifications to fences and pastures to ensure that the cows and calves remain separated. It may be beneficial to place a cull cow or yearling with the calves to keep them from pacing the fence lines as badly. After a few days, the cows and calves will gradually move farther from the fences and not be as concerned about being weaned.
2. Use Plastic or Metal Nose Tags
The tag, or more accurately called a nose flap, prevents calves from nursing but allows them to graze, eat from a feeder, and drink water. This reduces stress by keeping the social interaction between the cows and the calves, but breaks the ability to nurse.
3. Introduce Creep Feed Before Weaning
If you don’t typically creep feed through the summer, it might be beneficial to introduce the feed several weeks before weaning. A calf that can “belly up” to the feeder right after being separated from the cow will be less stressed, have a greater disease resistance, and have increased growth than one that is just learning what a feeder is.
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. at the same time can be a train wreck. Consider doing these practices 3-4 weeks before weaning.
Minimizing stress will reduce any disease problems that occur at weaning, will reduce treatment costs, and enhance your calves performance post-weaning.
Source: Sarah Breuer, P.A.S.
Lifestyle Feed Specialist
Country Visions Cooperative