Aaaah, spring. The grass is turning green, the temps are getting warmer and homesteads all across America are weaning calves! We like to wean our calves at around 7 months of age, but there are times when we wean just a bit earlier or later, depending upon circumstances.
If a cow's body condition starts to decline because a large calf is nursing off her during harsh weather conditions, such as drought or extreme cold, we may wean as early as 5 months. Or, if we have a batch of calves weaning at a certain time, we may hold one of the older ones as late as 9 months of age so they can all wean together. But, as any animal caregiver knows, there's more to weaning than just separating the calf from its dam. When we wean calves, our preparation tasks must start several weeks earlier.
Positioning the Herd
We like to practice rotational grazing with our cattle. We have our pastures fenced and cross-fenced into paddocks so that we can put them all into one paddock at a time, restricting other pastures to allow the grass to rest and recover before moving the herd to a new paddock and fresh grass. This allows pastures to be more fully utilized and the grass stays healthier because it's allowed a rejuvenation period between grazing times.
When we know we'll be weaning soon, we make sure the pasture adjoining the weaning pen is where we move the herd. This gets everyone used to the new area and offers lots of healthy, fresh grass. This is typically done about 2-3 weeks in advance of weaning.
More Effective Immunizations
No matter how you do it, weaning is bound to cause stress to the calf. Stress is an invitation to many illnesses so we want to make sure to give that calf the healthiest start possible.
Since weaning stress can also reduce the effectiveness of immunizations, about 2-3 weeks before we begin weaning we bring the calves through the working chutes to administer a dose of immunizations to each of them. We use this time to tattoo them as well, then we release the calves back to their dams and allow them all back into the pasture adjoining the weaning pens where the entire herd will stay until weaning day.
Finally, the big day arrives! Our weaning paddock is pretty close to the house so that we can tend to these weaning calves often. We've already prepared it for their stay by inspecting the fences to make sure all the wires are good and tight and we've loaded the hay rings with fresh high-quality hay.
On the big day, we sort weaning calves from their dams and bring the calves into the weaning paddock. In our experience, it's typical for instinct to demand that calf and dam call to each other for about three days (and nights!), so for a few days, there's quite a bit of bellowing from both sides of the fence!
Weaning Stress Quickly Fades
Since these yearling calves are fence line weaning, the dam and calf can see each other and even touch noses. It significantly reduces the calves' stress and helps them to adjust pretty quickly to yearling life. During this time, we keep a watchful eye on the calves for any sign of illness, and we supplement them daily with quality creep feed to keep them eating well.
Because they can see their dams, they're less reluctant to step away from the fence to enjoy a bite of their favorite creep feed. Before long, the calves have all bonded with each other as a group and the stresses of weaning quickly fades. Soon the dams leave the fence line to graze with the rest of the herd and the calves leave the fence line to graze together as a yearling group.
Within a very short time, peace and tranquility returns to the ranch! If we've done our job correctly as careful and mindful caregivers to these animals, their stress has been reduced and they've come through healthy and ready to be prepared for our breeding program.
This article was written by Tammy Taylor, owner of the ~Taylor-Made Homestead~ blog. Tammy lives & works on a North-EastTexas ranch and writes about home cooking, gardening, food preservation, MIY, DIY and living as gently as possible on this big blue planet we call home. You can visit her Homestead Blog – or follow her on Facebook or Pinterest. Find all of Tammy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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