Current Progressive Cattle digital edition
advertisement

West: Low-stress weaning strategies can improve calf performance

Matthew Garcia for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 October 2019

Weaning is quite possibly the most stressful time in a calf’s life. During this process, calves are subjected to a variety of stressors including removal from their mothers, new diets, processing (vaccination, dehorning, castration, etc.) and possibly even new pen or pasture environments.

This stress is further compounded if weaning is rapid and dramatic (i.e., weaned while loading a truck for marketing). This stress can result in suppression of the immune system, leading to sick and lowly productive calves. While this is stressful, and potentially a time of decreased production, there are a couple of methods that can be used to minimize stress to the calf.

1. The first strategy to minimize stress on the calf during weaning is the fenceline weaning strategy. This method aims to take advantage of environmental familiarity and close proximity of calves to their mothers. In this strategy, calves can still see their mothers, and mothers can still see their calves, thus reducing some of the anxiety of separation. However, this strategy does come with some disadvantages. The first is: The producer must invest in or have adjacent fenced pastures to implement this strategy. The second disadvantage is: There will always be one or two calves that find a way through, under or over a fence to get back to mother.

2. The second method to minimize weaning stress in calves is the quiet-wean method or the two-step weaning method. In this system, calves are fitted with a plastic nose flap that prevents them from nursing but will flip away from the mouth when the calf puts its head down to graze or eat out of a bunk. The major advantage of this system is: The calf never has to leave its mother, so the anxiety of separation is never realized.

This system allows the calf to remain in a familiar environment, acclimate to a new diet, become adept at grazing, all while remaining with its mother. However, there are some disadvantages to this strategy as well. The calf must be handled to place the nose flap, and it must be handled again to remove it, and as we all know there is always that one calf that manages to get it off before it’s weaned.

To summarize, weaning can be very stressful on calves but, as producers, there are strategies we can implement to make this a smoother transition. These strategies are especially important for producers who are retaining ownership, as they want those calves to hit the feedlot healthy and ready to grow.  end mark

Matthew Garcia
  • Matthew Garcia

  • Beef Cattle Specialist
  • Utah State University
  • Email Matthew Garcia

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS