Will the future of cattle production include fenceline weaning? “I would hope so,” University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Dona Funk told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “I really see that it works a lot better than some of the other methods, and (the calves) don’t seem to get as sick… The people that I have that are trying it really like it, and many of them won’t go back to anything else – unless, of course,” she added with a laugh, “something happens.”
That “something” would be bad weather and a lack of grass.  In fenceline weaning, the calf is separated from its mother only by an impenetrable fence; they can see and hear each other, and make nose-to-nose contact. Funk said an electric fence is often used – “It has to be a pretty strong fence, because you’ve got your cows that will jump, or your calves that will get through” – but the stress on the animals is reduced. “Both watching it myself and from what I read,” she said, “it doesn’t take very long for those calves to go out and start grazing.  I’ve seen some successful places where the water is a little bit further away, where they have to at least go off the fenceline – not too far away, where they’re not going to go drink, but they have to get away from that fence to go drink – and then there’s grass there.  
So, many times that first day or so, you’ll see the calves grazing right along the fence, but as it goes they start spreading out a little bit further.” Although the calves can stop eating for a week or more, Funk said they usually “quit with the walking the fenceline and the screaming, that kind of thing,” in 2-3 days. The cows linger a little longer – “I’ve seen 3-4 days, really, for the cows to settle down and go out and graze,” The benefit appears to be reduced post-weaning weight loss – one California study showed calves that had been fenceline weaned weighed on average 23 lbs more than those that were completely separated – and reduced illness.
“A lot of people just put the calves in a dry lot, give them food and hay, and water,” Funk said. “A lot of times if it’s too dry, we’ll see some respiratory problems with that because they’re getting a lot of dust and when they start bawling for their mothers it tends to agitate the respiratory system, so it makes things worse.” Partial separation, she said, doesn’t work. The animals are too hard to sort, and “I think they’re smarter than we think they are sometimes, and they figure out what’s going on.”  
However, producers who use a grazing system can “forward graze” the calves, erecting the fence so the calves are on the better grass ahead of their mothers. It can be important to get the calves to good quality grass, preferably with some legumes to add protein and energy.  
“They do have a nutritional requirement that’s pretty high because they’re growing, they’re putting on muscle and bone,” Funk said. “They’re not getting a whole lot from their mothers at the end of lactation, but they’re getting a little bit… you want to make sure they’ve got a little bit extra out there, versus just our standard fescue pastures.”
Fenceline weaning won’t fit every operation. “It just kind of depends on how heavily people stock their farms,” she said. If they don’t have room for it, there’s no way they’re going to do it.”  
But Extension discourages “truck weaning,” picking the animals up in the middle of the pasture and hauling them to the sale barn. “We want to make sure they’re pre-conditioned,” said Funk, “so that they’re going to eat when they go to their new homes. But I really wish more people would try fenceline weaning.” 


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