Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

Southeast: Weaning methods for cow-calf operations

Kim Mullenix for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 April 2022

One of the most stressful stages in the life of a beef calf is weaning. During the weaning process, calves are separated from their dam and often experience additional unfamiliar events such as vaccinations, castration, dehorning, dietary and environmental changes.

This increases the risk of infectious disease and reduces overall performance post-weaning.

When weaning time approaches, beef producers have several options to choose from. The most common weaning strategies are abrupt separation, fenceline weaning and two-stage weaning. Abrupt separation is often thought of as the traditional method in the southeast U.S. and consists of an abrupt, total separation of the cow and calf so they cannot come into close contact. Calves are typically moved to a new environment, which results in fence walking or vocalization.

Fenceline weaning consists of separating cows and calves from one another through the opposite sides of a fence and allowing them to have nose-to-nose contact for a period of time. This method allows calves to remain in a familiar environment while adapting to the separation. Fenceline weaning has been shown to decrease stress with less fence walking and vocalizations but requires adequate infrastructure to keep groups physically separated.

Two-stage weaning involves first placing a device such as a nose flap on the calf and allowing the calf to remain with its dam. The nose flap allows the calf to continue to graze and drink water but prevents suckling. After 10 to 14 days, stage two involves separation of the cow and calf. Breaking this into these two events also reduces stress on the calf. This method is more labor-intensive but does not require as adequate of facilities as the fenceline weaning process.

Cow-calf producers should review various weaning options to determine the best strategy for their individual operation. For additional information on weaning methods, labor requirements and pros/cons of various methods, download ANR-2823 “Weaning methods for beef cow-calf operations” on Alabama Beef Systems.   end mark

Kim Mullenix
  • Kim Mullenix

  • Extension Beef Specialist/Associate Professor
  • Auburn University
  • Email Kim Mullenix