Strong fence and close weaning proximity helps calves
One weaning practice that continues to gain favor with both researchers and producers is fenceline weaning. Fencing companies also seem to be proponents—the practice requires good fences. This weaning system breaks the cow/calf bond through a fence, rather than waiting to the point the cow begins to kick the calf or physically separating the calf and dam separated by large distances. In this system, the pairs are separated but can still see, hear and have nose-to-nose contact. The result is a calf that bellows less, walks the fence less and, in general, is less stressed than a calf that is abruptly weaned. Research shows that fenceline weaned calves continue a close-to-normal growth rate and weight gain.
While this practice is relatively simple, it does require some space and a sturdy separation fence. The fenceline weaning process is a follows:
• Cows and calves are maintained together for several days in a pasture with ample feed resources.
• Calves are held here with dams so they can acclimate, find feed and water before separation occurs.
• To separate the pairs, the cows are moved to the other side of the fence.
• Pairs are kept separate until the bawling stops, usually about 5 days.
The better type of fence to have between the cows and calves would be either high tensile electric wire or woven wire with a start-your-heart electric charger on it. One of the critical keys to making this practice work is that the calves stay in a familiar place—an environment with the same feeding routine: a creep feeder full of Cattle Charge, same grass, same water. They will still have visual contact with their dams so the only change they undergo is no longer being able to nurse. Minimizing stress and change for calves is a big benefit in post weaning health and performance.
What do calves want? Just like their moms, calves want to be bored. An exciting day for a calf is one where he meets lots of new friends, gets vaccinated, ear tagged, hauled, dehorned, castrated, wormed, implanted and weaned. So you can see that an exciting day is really a bad day in terms of stress. Calves would much rather fill their rumen and contentedly stare off into space, in a semi-catatonic state and contemplate the bovine.
If you try fenceline weaning, after the initial separation, expect the calves to walk the fence for about 18 hours. After the first day, they will spend more time eating than bawling. As mentioned earlier, a crucial component of this program is the fence, it needs to be strong and tight. It virtually needs to be “hog tight.” Using a tight five-wire fence with a middle electric wire has been demonstrated to be adequate, you can bet that a single piece of electric tape is not. When the calf is weaned, the animal will have a markedly increased water intake, so it is important to ensure that the calves have adequate water.
A substantial benefit to fenceline weaning is the health of the calves. The incidence of calves needing treatment is lower for fenceline weaned calves than it is for calves abruptly weaned by hauling them to a drylot. The reduction in morbidity is attributed to the reduction in calf stress.
Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.