Weaning time, when suckling calves are removed from cows, has already started.
This can be a stressful time for cows and calves, as well as owners. Animal managers should try to make weaning as stress-free as we can, while keeping productivity and profitability in line with goals.
Several factors can influence time of weaning, including loss of dam, forage resources and cow body condition, sale time and other farm activities. Calves can be weaned any time after their rumens become functional, that is, when their digestive system can process whole feeds. Bottle-fed calves can be weaned after one month of age, while calves nursing cows are weaned between 3 and 8 months old. It’s usually best to wean at the older age.
For comparing weight of calves weaned at different ages, a 205-day weaning weight is sometimes calculated. This “205-day WW” is the calf weight adjusted for birth date and weaning date It doesn’t infer that calves should necessarily be weaned at that age. If forage is in short supply or cow body condition is low, calves can be weaned early (before eight months). This preserves cow energy reserves to allow for development of the new calf inside her and keep her in good shape for timely re-breeding after thats calf is born. Studies have shown that in times of forage shortages, it can be economical to wean calves early.
In those cases, the cost of feeding early-weaned calves was more than offset with improved reproductive performance of cows that were kept in a body condition that favored efficient reproductive performance. Many people base weaning on the Moon phases /signs. One “rule” for weaning is to do it when the Moon is the signs of Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. These signs rule the thighs, knees, ankles, and feet, and the dates listed in the Farmers’ Almanac are based on this rule.
Preparing calves well in advance of actual weaning is worth the effort.
Because immune function and response is lower in times of stress, and weaning can be stressful, many veterinarians suggest that vaccinations be given three to four weeks prior to weaning and that deworming be done after weaning. This not only lessens the stress at weaning, but also improves immune response to the vaccines. Other management procedures like castration and dehorning should be done well in advance of weaning.It’s good to make sure calves are used to eating the intended post-weaning diet before weaning.
You can feed that diet to both cows and calves for a short period of time, about two-weeks, or provide it in a creep feeder — narrow passages into a feeding area are set up so the calves creep in, but larger cows cannot. Although creep feeding can be used to acclimate calves to a post-weaning diet, it’s primary use is to provide supplemental feed to nursing calves in order to increase weaning weight.
Make sure the post-weaning diet is appropriate for the age of calf, including forage quantity and quality, and contains a vitamin/mineral mix and plenty of fresh, accessible water. For the very young calf, this means a special calf starter diet, either bagged or specially formulated feed. For older calves, good quality forage (fall pasture regrowth, irrigated summer pasture, or very good quality hay/silage) will suffice, depending on target performance. Make sure they can safely reach water and know how to drink it.
Whether your weaning consists of total separation of cows and calves or the low stress technique of fence-line weaning, make sure you address nutrition and health measures. Total separation weaning can be accomplished with good success if pre-weaning and post-weaning management address stress, health, and nutritional management sufficiently.
For traditional weaning, it’s best to have cows and calves together in the place where calves will stay. Remove cows to a new location out of sight and sound from calves. Leave calves in familiar surroundings. It is normal for cattle to bawl for several days. In fence-line weaning, cows and calves are placed on opposite sides of a strong fence (woven wire or multiple-strand, high-tensile wire).
As with total separation weaning, cows are moved and calves remain in the initial pasture. Although the cattle are seldom seen challenging the fence, they have some nose-to-nose contact, but spend the majority of time grazing away from the fence. Fence-line visits gradually decrease over the first five days and the weaning process is complete within a week. Studies have shown these calves bawled less and gained more weight during the weaning process than with complete separation weaning.