Weaning fall-born calves (remember to plan for water needs)
By : Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist
Many cow/calf operations with fall-born calves will wean the calves in mid to late June. Weaning during very hot summer weather is stressful enough to the calves. Therefore any management strategy that can reduce stress to the calves should be utilized. “Fenceline weaning” is such a strategy that should be applied.
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. 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. A follow-up study demonstrated similar advantages of fenceline contact when calves were weaned under drylot conditions and their dams had access to pasture. To wean and background, even for short periods, fenceline weaning should be considered. (Source: Price and co-workers. Abstracts 2002 Western Section of American Society of Animal Science.)
Obviously, a very sturdy fence between the cows and the calves will be necessary during the weaning process. Several suggestions for weaning fences are discussed in the E-extension fact sheet: Fenceline Weaning for Beef Cattle.
For at least a week prior to weaning, when possible, place the cows and calves into the pasture that will house the calves after weaning. This allows the calves to be acquainted with the pasture and the water sources before the stresses of weaning.
During the hot summer days, having adequate water available for the cattle is a MUST. Experienced ranchers that utilize fenceline weaning have found that having plenty of water in the region where the cattle are congregated can be a challenge. Plan ahead before you begin the weaning process to be certain that sufficient water can be supplied to both sides of the fence.