By : Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist
Spring calving herds across the Midwest and Southwest will soon be planning to wean the calves. Some producers may wean the calves from young or thin cows during late September in order to regain some body condition before winter adds to the nutrient requirements. However, many herds will wean at the more traditional times of late October to early November. Calves that are enrolled in Value-added programs must be weaned at least 45 days prior to sale date. During those 45 days the calves must grow and gain efficiently. Therefore it is critical that these calves go through the weaning process with a minimum of stress and start to gain immediately.
Methods to reduce stress on the calves have become of great interest to producers. Therefore, weaning strategies have been studied in recent years. California researchers weaned calves with only a fence (Fenceline) separating them from their dams. These were compared to calves weaned totally separate (Separate) from dams. The Separate Calves could not see or hear their dams. Calf behaviors were monitored for five days following weaning. Fenceline calves and cows spent approximately 60% and 40% of their time, respectively within 10 feet of the fence during the first two days. During the first three days, Fenceline calves bawled and walked less, and ate and rested more, but these differences disappeared by the fourth day. All calves were managed together starting 7 days after weaning. After two weeks, Fenceline calves had gained 23 pounds more than Separate calves. This difference persisted since, after 10 weeks, Fenceline calves had gained 110 pounds (1.57 lb/day), compared to 84 pounds (1.20 lb/day) for Separate calves. There was no report of any differences in sickness, but calves that eat more during the first days after weaning should stay healthier. (Source: Price, et al. 2003. Fenceline contact of beef calves with their dams at weaning reduced the negative effects of separation on behavior and growth rate. J Anim Sci 81: 116-121.)
New research being conducted at Oklahoma State University has shown similar outcomes. Dr. Jared Taylor from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine recently reported the findings at the Academy of Veterinary Consultants. Fenceline-weaned calves had the best gains for the next 28 days of the trial compared to three other weaning methods. Source: Bovine Veterinarian
Producers that have tried Fenceline weaning will remind us that it takes good, well maintained fences and adequate water supplies for both sides of the fence. Remember, a large number of cattle are going to be congregated in a small area for several days. Therefore water availability for both cows and calves is critical.To wean and background, even for short periods, Fenceline weaning should be considered. More information about value-added calf programs can be found at the Oklahoma Quality Beef Network website: http://www.oqbn.okstate.edu/ .