Everything You Need to Know About Weaning Your Calves
Weaning is one of the most stressful times for both farmers and cattle. The delicate process sees calves separated from mothers and prepared for a life of farming. There are many different methods to weaning calves, each with a different stress level and impact upon the calf. Therefore, choosing the right weaning method will dramatically impact the calf’s health, stress, and value to the farm.
Queensland has the largest cattle population of any other state in Australia, with 12.1 million heads in 2018 and slow growth expected to continue into the future. Due to the high number of cattle and significantly different environments, weaning methods used by farmers in Queensland look different from those of other states.
A calf is generally weaned from its mother at around 8 to 10 months old. It can be done through various methods, each requiring different labour, equipment, and resources. A calf may be weaned earlier if the area is drier or high-quality pasture is available that does not need to be processed through the mother.
A calf can also be weaned early for other reasons, which assist farmers in managing the overall state of their farm. For instance, weaning early allows farmers to save water, as studies have shown that early weaning can reduce total water requirements by up to 60 per cent. Early weaning can also assist in maintaining the fertility of your herd, thereby ensuring that they are healthier, sooner, ready for another calf.
As a calf approaches the appropriate time for weaning, an adequate method should be chosen that accounts for the equipment and labour available at the time. There are several different methods with the main ones being:
- Yard Weaning
Yard weaning requires more labour than other weaning methods. Still, it is extremely effective at producing high-quality cattle that remain calm throughout future cattle handling. Yard weaning not only produces higher-quality cattle but also introduces calves to hand feeding, group socialisation and produces overall quieter cattle that are easier to transport and handle through abattoirs.
- Abrupt Separation
Abrupt separation is when a mother and a calf are separated abruptly through a draft and a separation mechanism. This method is commonly very stressful, as there is no gradual separation of a calf from its mother, and attachment between the two is very high. This method commonly sees cows attempting to run through fences failing to calm down once settled.
- Gradual Separation
Gradual separation refers to when calves are separated from their mothers by placing them in adjacent paddocks with a shared fence in the middle. They are usually left in this configuration for approximately 4-5 days, then moved to a more distant paddock.
- Creep Weaning
Creep weaning represents a ‘self-weaning’ process whereby calves learn to separate from their mothers independently. This is done by making a large gap in the fence enough for the calf to fit, but not the mother. This encourages the calf to explore without the presence of their mother.
Preparing for Weaning
Weaning calves from their mother is a delicate operation; ensuring that calves remain healthy, relaxed and happy is important to growing your herd. Many items must be prepared in advance before weaning. Ensuring that feed and water are in perfect balance for calves is paramount to a successful weaning season.
Other items that must be prepared include ensuring:
- Vaccinations are ready
- Dredging supplies are ready
- All fodder, grain and post-weaning pasture is of adequate nutrition.
- Castration equipment are up to date
- Dehorning equipment are up to date
- Pain relief mechanisms are set in place
Preparing the Cattle Yard
Designing and constructing a well-designed cattle-yard is one of the most important aspects to reducing stress on weaning cattle. Since highly stressed cows do not grow healthy, ensuring that there is adequate space, as well as the right equipment, is key to developing high-quality cattle.
Constructing sub paddocks, ensuring cattle races are safe and functional, scales are working, cattle crushes work effectively are all proactive steps towards a successful weaning season.
Cattle yard design is arguably the single most important factor in mitigating the stress of the calves and the efficiency of labour throughout the process. If a farm has very little cattle-yard capacity, then the weaning process may take longer than usual, and some calves may be weaned too late, leaving mothers in an unhealthy state to have another calf for the next season.
A poorly designed cattle yard can also add to the stress of calves, as they are learning how to be handled through the yard for the very first time. Cattle yards that have sharp corners are more likely to see calves get stressed, frightened and harder to move from yard to yard.
Constructing sub-paddocks can greatly assist if farmers choose to use the gradual separation method. Ensuring that paddocks and yards are designed to allow a herd to be easily separated into two groups is important to save on time and reruns of the herd.
Spring is a perfect time to re-evaluate the expected number of newborns, the number of available paddocks and respective designs to ensure a successful weaning season. Temporary fencing can be constructed on a seasonal basis if working under limitations in space and varying herds that need to be weaned.
While the weaning season for any farmer represents a busy time of year, the process can be made easier with efficiently built cattle yards and safe cattle handling equipment. Steel Supplies Charters Towers sells a broad range of cattle handling equipment to see local farmers prepare for yet another busy weaning season in the best possible fashion.
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