As summer begins to fade into fall, it’s time to start weaning spring calves.
Weaning can be stressful on calves, but producers can make the transition a little easier for the calves, and themselves.
Experts concur that weaning is perhaps the most stressful time in a calf’s life, and a calf that experiences prolonged stress is more susceptible to illness caused by viruses or bacteria, including Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD).
Cattle producers, however, can reduce weaning time stress by preparing the calves for the transition ahead of time.
Reducing physical stress
According to information from the University of Missouri, weaning stress is amplified when calves are castrated, dehorned, tagged or branded at the time of weaning.
The University of Missouri Extension recommends that cattle be worked at least three weeks prior to weaning in an effort to reduce physical stress.
It is also recommended that cattle be vaccinated and wormed during that time frame because stressed animals do not respond well to vaccinations.
The three-to four-week interval prior to weaning will give calves enough time to respond to vaccines such as those against respiratory viruses and bacteria, especially those calves have had previous vaccinations.
Reduce hunger stress
Prior to weaning, calves should be offered and consuming adequate amounts of roughage, water and/or starter grains and gaining well before being weaned, according to MU Extension. The stress of weaning can cause calves to stop eating and drinking, resulting in weight loss.
It’s recommended that feed bunks and waters be placed in the pens or pastures, near fence lines, making water and feed available to calves as they search for their mothers.
Preparing weaning facilities
The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., recommended that producers who plan to wean calves in pens try to minimize dust. Large pen allow calves to run and stir up dust.
Overcrowding should also be avoided.
The foundation goes on to explain that fenceline weaning actually reduces stress and separation anxiety because cows and calves are only separated by a fence, which prevents nursing.
Fenceline weaning also produces less dust than pen weaning.
Examine your facilities
Well-designed corrals and working facilities can reduce stress, according to the Nobel Foundation. Poorly designed facilities may force producers to poke and prod calves through the facilities, resulting in added stress. Excessive use of electric cattle prods and whips should also be avoided.
While excessive dust can cause issues with calves during weaning, so can excessive mud.
Washington State University Extension recommends that calves be provided shelter to help reduce weather stress and, when possible, try to keep calves out of mud, and provide good footing for the calves.
Other environmental stressors can include unusual noises, such as a barking dog. Try to reduce “new” sounds and noises as much as possible.