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Weaning methods to suit your operation

By: Jessica Smith, PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist, Swift Current

October 2016

As we move in to fall it’s time to start thinking about weaning your calves.  Traditionally most producers use an abrupt form of weaning where the calf and cow are separated and not allowed any physical, vocal or visual contact with one another.  This may cause extra stress on both the cow and the calf, which could cause weight loss and a reduced immune response.  Stress is caused by both the change in diet to the calf as well as the separation of the calf and cow.  To help reduce this stress there are some other methods of weaning to consider. 

  1. Fence-line weaning - where cows and calves are physically separated by a fence. 
    It’s important that the fence is strong enough to prevent animals from getting across to the other side.  This will allow animals to maintain some visual and vocal contact through the fence, but will completely eliminate nursing.  There has been some research to show that fence line weaning reduces stress, which allows for increased weight gains on those calves.   It’s also been found to reduce the amount of time the cow and calf spend looking for each other, which means they are spending more time eating. 

  2. Two-stage weaning – where calves are fitted with a nose flap to prevent them from nursing and are left with their dams.  The nose flap is left on for several days before it is removed.  The idea is to first remove milk from the calf’s diet while maintaining physical contact.  The calf is still able to access feed and water with the nose flap in place.  Once the calf is weaned off of milk, the act of physically separating him from his mother is less stressful. 

By reducing the stress of weaning, you can realize health benefits to your cows and calves, which can lead to economic benefits to your ranch.  When choosing a weaning method it’s important to consider what will work for you on your operation.   

For more information contact your nearest Regional Livestock Specialist.

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