Farm Talk

June 25, 2013

Weaning fall-born calves

Glenn Selk
CNHI

Parsons, Kansas — Many cow/calf operations with fall-born calves will wean the calves in mid to late June. Weaning during very hot summer weather is stressful enough to the calves. Therefore any management strategy that can reduce stress to the calves should be utilized.  “Fenceline weaning” is such a strategy that should be applied.

California researchers weaned calves with only a fence (Fenceline) separating them from their dams. These were compared to calves weaned totally separate (Separate) from dams. Calf behaviors were monitored for five days following weaning. Fenceline calves and cows spent approximately 60 percent and 40 percent of their time, respectively within 10 feet of the fence during the first two days.  During the first three days, Fenceline calves bawled and walked less, and ate and rested more, but these differences disappeared by the fourth day. All calves were managed together starting seven days after weaning. After two weeks, Fenceline calves had gained 23 pounds more than Separate calves. This difference persisted since, after 10 weeks, Fenceline calves had gained 110 pounds (1.57 lb/day), compared to 84 pounds(1.20 lb/day) for Separate calves. There was no report of any differences in sickness, but calves that eat more during the first days after weaning should stay healthier.

A follow-up study demonstrated similar advantages of fenceline contact when calves were weaned under drylot conditions and their dams had access to pasture. To wean and background, even for short periods, fenceline weaning should be considered. (Source: Price and co-workers. Abstracts 2002 Western Section of American Society of Animal Science.)

Here is an excellent summary of tips to minimize stress from weaning:  (Source: Mathis and Carter. New Mexico State University Guide B-221, Minimizing weaning stress on calves)

•Provide calves access to the weaning area (pen, trap, or pasture) a few weeks prior to weaning so calves do not undergo the stress of environment change at weaning. At weaning, move the cows to a new location when cows and calves are separated at weaning. Do not move the calves.

•Allow fenceline contact for four to seven days following weaning. Fences should be sturdy and allow nose-to-nose contact while preventing nursing.

•If fenceline weaning is not possible, move cows far enough away that they cannot hear the calves vocalizing.

•If weaning in a drylot or corral, place feed bunks, hay, and water troughs along the fence to minimize perimeter walking and increase encounters with feed and water.

•Placing large water troughs inside the pen and letting water troughs overflow slightly may attract calves to the water and help calves that are accustomed to drinking from live water sources adjust to troughs and to the sounds that occur when the float is activated.

•Do not add unnecessary stress by castrating, dehorning, or branding calves at weaning. These practices should be completed at least three weeks before weaning and preferably prior to three months of age.

During the hot summer days, having adequate water available for the cattle is a must. Experienced ranchers that utilize fenceline weaning have found that having plenty of water in the region where the cattle are congregated can be a challenge. Plan ahead before you begin the weaning process to be certain that sufficient water can be supplied to both sides of the fence. £