Weaning time is stressful; there are a number of steps you can take to make sure the calf remains healthy and productive.
For one thing, said University of Arkansas Associate Animal Science Department head Dr. Tom Troxel, you should include a vaccination program in your preconditioning.
“Make sure calves have received their blackleg, IBR and PI3 shots,” Troxel told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “Most of those shots require a booster, so plan your vaccination program so that your calves receive all shots plus their boosters to make sure they’ve got good immune protection.”
Fenceline weaning has become a popular practice intended to reduce the stress of separating calves from their mothers. Troxel recommended putting the calves in a pasture with good quality forage and one with which they’re familiar, so they know where the water and the mineral are located. “Use a proper electric fence designed to keep them from crossing that fence to their mothers, and vice versa, since the mothers might cross into the pasture with their calves,” he said. “If the calves are put in a pasture they’re familiar with they’ll just go off and start to graze, and so will the cows on the other side of the pasture. The cows and calves may lay together across the fence, but before long those cows will be out grazing, and in three to five days they’ll wean themselves.”
Dr. Patrick Davis, University of Missouri Extension regional livestock specialist at Cedar County, Mo., said the goal with any weaning program is to manage the calves to have the least amount of stress possible, because that will translate into improved post weaning performance and health. He cited an article written by South Dakota State Extension Veterinarian Dr. Russ Daly that recommended running a calf through the chute three to four weeks before weaning time to dehorn, castrate, vaccinate, and deworm.
“By doing this you would make sure the calf is properly vaccinated and processed while not adding more stress at weaning time,” Davis said. “Deworming is important because this will allow the calf to better respond and utilize vaccinations.”
The calf also needs to receive adequate nutrition both pre- and post-weaning, so it will develop an immune system that can help deal with stressors such as diseases and pests.
“Prior to weaning, creep feeding or grazing have been successful ways to deal with stress of weaning,” Davis said. “These strategies allow the calf to get acclimated to eating feed out of a bunk or grazing by themselves; they also allow calves to be exposed to people and machinery, which will reduce stress when they are exposed to these things post weaning. Also, it is important to get them used to drinking from the water sources in the place you are weaning them so that, once weaned, there is less stress related to the calf learning to use the water sources.”
As an alternative to fenceline weaning, Davis said another low stress weaning method is placing a nose flap on the calf that allows them to eat and drink next to their mother, but not to suckle. But Troxel said, “We just have to think about the traditional weaning where we just abruptly wean the calves and put them in a dry lot; they stand there and bawl, and don’t eat or drink. That’s just a harbor for disease, so I think more people should start thinking about fenceline weaning; they’ll be really pleased with it.”


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