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3 calf weaning methods to reduce stress

Stop the bawling: Calf stress can cause sickness and reduced gains that affect their postweaning performance.

June 20, 2019

2 Min Read
black cows seen through wire fenceline
REDUCED BAWLING: Cattle producers found that the time cows spent bawling for calves was reduced when a fence line weaning system was in place. University of Missouri Extension

The most stressful time in the life of a beef calf is at weaning.

According to Eldon Cole, field specialist in livestock for University of Missouri Extension, calves weaned from five to seven months can show symptoms of stress during weaning. He says stress can also bring about reduced gains that affect their postweaning performance.

“Stress may even occur in the owner's life with the bawling of the cows and calves," Cole adds.

Whether for cattle or cattlemen and women, a variety of practices can help reduce weaning time stress. Here are a few calf weaning styles to consider:

aerial photo of a fenceline weaning system

SMOOTH TRANSITION: An aerial photo of a fence line weaning system where cows and calves are only separated by gates and fences.

Fence line. Cole says he remembers one tactic that was introduced by Oklahoma State in the 1960s. The design involved a lane with a board fence on one side. Cows were placed on one side and calves on the other. The lower board or boards on the fence were removable.

"When they began the weaning process, the lower boards were adjusted so the calves could reach through and nurse their dams," Cole says. "I don't recall how long the calves reached through the opening to nurse, but when weaning day came, the researchers simply closed the opening in the fence. OSU researchers claimed there was no bawling or stress reaction, and that was my introduction to fence line weaning."

Since that time, the modern version of fence line weaning has developed using various types of fencing, including power fencing. Calves remain in their home pasture where they are used to the forage, water supply and any supplementation.  

The cows are placed in the adjacent pasture where the calves can see, smell and hear their mothers.

Nose flaps. Some cow-calf owners have adopted nose flaps with good results. The device is placed on the calves' nostrils several days before the pairs are separated. It prevents the calf from nursing, and it is removed when the cows and calves are split apart.

Natural. Fall calvers often leave the calves on the cows a month or so longer. In that management system, some cows will "kick off" their calves in a natural weaning process without flaps or fences.

"Regardless of the weaning method, try to reduce stress and hopefully improve your calves' health and profitability. It's just good management,” Cole says. “It is also consistent with the Beef Quality Assurance program promoted by the beef community.”

Source: The University of Missouri Extension, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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