Managing Stress During Weaning
(From the desk of Dr. Collin Post)

As we are getting into late summer and early fall, pastures are showing the signs of all the wear-and-tear from providing for cows and calves for months. This probably has many of you starting to think about weaning your calves. Weaning is one of the most stressful times in a calf ’s life. Not only are we taking them away from their mom, but they are also getting a crash course on how to fend for themselves. This stress leads to a weakened immune system and makes these calves extremely vulnerable to illness. By using a few different strategies around the time of weaning, we can limit the stress and illness on these calves leading to a more profitable and healthier calf crop.

The most ideal weaning protocol is completely dependent on your management style and what you are planning to do with your calves (i.e. are you going to feed them out or are you going to turn around and sell them shortly after weaning?).

Ideally these calves would have at least one round of vaccines two weeks prior to weaning. When running them through the chute, we can also place a growth implant, castrate and dehorn, and apply a pour-on and dewormer. Putting calves through the chute itself is stressful, castration and dehorning adds to the stress. However, turning them back with their mom for a few weeks prior to weaning allows them to respond to the vaccines, and get over the stress of being processed. Processing and weaning at the same time packs all of these stressors into one period further suppressing their immune system and setting these calves up for a very rough transition period.

How we wean these calves is also vital. Fence-line weaning (having the cows and calves separated by only a fence) allows for the bond between cow and calf to be broken more slowly. The calves to still see mom, but still forces them to figure out the feed bunk and waterer on their own. With their mom being on the other side of the fence though, that fence better be fairly stout or the whole weaning process can be reversed very quickly…

The overarching goal is to cut down on the number of calves who get sick during weaning, which leads to increased treatment costs and decreased rates of gain. As far as picking the best vaccine protocols for pre-weaning and weaning, that is where we come in. Make sure to give us as much information as possible when trying to trouble shoot or rework weaning plans. We are always more than happy to help. Please give us a call today if you need more assistance!