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Weaning over for another year.

Published on: June 14, 2017

Weaning is a stressful time on both cows and calves (and people) so we try and make the process as seamless as possible.

There are many ways to go about weaning and over the years we have tried quite a few variations.  We believe that a successful weaning will set your calves for life.

Ask any feedlot what they think of weaning and how it effects performance in the long term.  Don’t underestimate stress in your calves, at this time, in the environmental, psychological and nutritional sense.

Right now your calves immune competency can either be nurtured or compromised by the choices you make.  Be smart about nutrition, vaccinations and management and you can make a positive difference in this crop of calves for the rest of their lives.

We wean our calves at about eight months of age, we find this an optimal time for both cow and calf. Adjustments are made for seasonal conditions and available feed.

We weaned a couple of weeks ago, we would have gone a week earlier but the weather was looking like getting cold and wet so we held off.  When there looked to be window of about a week of good conditions coming we pinned our ears back and yarded all the cows and calves over a couple of days and got on with it.

We sorted the cows from the calves then separated the males from the heifers. At this stage we didn’t do any further processes on the calves except for any eye troubles that needed attention. Basically we kept the stress to a minimum.  As there are a lot of cattle going through the yards it is important to get the calves out of the heavy dust and settled.

It is important to have the weaning ration in the bunks before the calves are put into the weaning pens.  We give a mix of straw, molasses (for energy) and a protein meal.  It is always good to see the calves that go straight onto the feed as they are exhibiting low stress. They will also encourage the other shy feeders to eat. A lot of situations look better when you have a full tummy, cattle are no different. Make sure the ration is free of mould and dust, it is important that your feed is of good quality.  Nutrition is a major management component in avoiding wrecks.

We supply the same mineral lick and rock salt to our weaners as we would for the cow herd.  We find they really nail it. Whether out of boredom or maybe their systems really require more because of the stress, we are not sure.

Fresh water, at all times, is critical.

At this early stage with large mobs of weaners it is important to not scare them with sudden noises as they may rush and cause damage to themselves or your yards. There is a bit of power behind a mob of 300kg rushing weaners!

One of the challenges of weaning calves is dust.  It plays havoc with their respiratory system and while their immunity is compromised this can develop into runny noses, coughing or pneumonia.  In dusty years it is a good idea to do something about the dust.

We then put the cows on the other side of a strong fence from the calves and leave them.  I think this is referred to as “fenceline weaning”.  For many years we weaned traditionally by separating the cows from the calves and took the cows right away so they couldn’t hear their calves. Fenceline weaning is definitely better for our herd.

After a few days the cows drift away and the calves are not too worried and are happy and eating the ration.  Around day 3 we walk the cows away from the yards to their new paddocks to prepare for the birth of their next calf.

We work the weaners quietly around their yard and they learn to block up and how to handle pressure and generally quieten. We introduce our sheep dogs to block them after we are happy with their progress. After four days of being locked up they are ready to go out onto their paddocks.

At Eaglehawk Angus we have all done a Low Stress Stock Handling school and apply their principles of working stock. We were impressed with the school and would encourage anyone working with livestock to shout themselves a course.  It doesn’t matter how long you have been working stock you will get something out of it. This is the link to their website. http://www.lss.net.au/about.htm

I googled a couple of articles on weaning and was pleased to see the two articles I opened discussed very similar procedures to what we do at Eaglehawk Angus.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-way-wean-calves-leaves-them-happier-healthier-180957919/

https://futurebeef.com.au/knowledge-centre/yard-weaning-and-education/

The cows wander the fence for a day or two and then eventually move off.

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