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Are You Ready to Wean?

By Dwayne Summach, Regional Livestock Specialist, Kindersley

October 7, 2016 

It’s that time of year, where the pace of cattle moving from summer pasture to fall grazing and wintering areas starts to accelerate. Separating the calves from the cows for weaning often coincides with these moves.

Along with the sudden change in diet and separation anxiety from not being with mom, calves are often moved to a different location, vaccinated and introduced to different herd mates. All of these stressors contribute to making freshly weaned calves susceptible to bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

Take some time to review your weaning protocols and ask yourself if doing things differently would reduce stress on the calves. Some changes may result in healthier calves with a lower BRD treatment rate. Some examples of strategies to reduce stress include: vaccinating at least three weeks prior to weaning; using low stress handling techniques during gathering and sorting; utilizing the fence line weaning method; and, implementing the two-step weaning method.

During the review, identify the materials that you are likely to require and take steps to have what is required on hand. For example, if you keep the calves following weaning, make sure that your BRD treatment protocol is up to date and the antibiotics required to treat any calves that get sick are on farm, stored properly and h are not expired.

It is also important to inspect and repair the area the calves are going to be placed into. Confirm the water source is clean and operating properly. If the calves have been creep fed on the pasture, placing a creep feeder filled with the same ration in the weaning pen can help maintain feed intakes. Anything that encourages the calves to eat and drink will bolster the immune system and assist in reducing the likelihood of sickness developing. Dry matter intakes of two and a half per cent of body weight or greater indicate that a calf is well.

When calves are sick, they do not grow and gain weight. In a study evaluating the effects of weaning strategies on the performance and health of calves, 15 per cent of the calves weaned using a fence line weaning strategy required treatment versus 30 per cent of the calves that were truck weaned.

For more information regarding strategies for reducing stress at weaning, visit www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/weaning-65, contact a Regional Livestock Specialist or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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