Weaning strategies: Which one will work best for you?

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CADIZ, Ohio – Several tried-and-true weaning methods are favorites of Ohio cattlemen. However, other techniques are becoming more popular, according to Ohio State Extension beef specialist Steve Loerch.
Common. Two of the most common methods used in the region are truck weaning and drylot weaning.
In truck weaning, calves are “thrown” onto a truck and hauled to the feedlot, whether that’s a mile or 1,000 miles away.
Loerch said the method is popular for feedlot operations but has implications for calves as they inhale diesel fuel fumes, lack feed and water and are potentially exposed to disease pathogens living in the truck.
In drylot weaning, calves are pulled from cows and put into a contained area where they’re fed a ration of grain and forage. This type of weaning carries some of the same risks as truck weaning.
On the pasture. Producers think “out of sight, out of mind,” with pasture weaning, Loerch says.
It works well, too: Calves are moved to a high-quality pasture away from their dams. There, they can be exposed to supplemental feed and feedbunks to ease their transition into a commercial feedlot.
Fenceline. Another method, fenceline or contact weaning, is growing in popularity, Loerch says.
A fenceline, commonly just a few strands of electric fencing, separates the calves and cows but allows them close contact.
Loerch says growth and behavior data indicates both cows and calves are more content and the method is less stressful for both.
Two-stage. An up-and-coming method, called two-stage, looks deeper at the issues of weaning: Is a calf’s stress caused by missing its dam or missing the milk?
Self-weaning nose rings are applied to calves five days before their planned separation. In that time, the calves are discouraged from suckling but still have the cows nearby.
In the second stage, the calves are completely removed from the cowherd.
“By the time you take the calves away, they’re used to not having milk and their threshold of stress is affected,” Loerch said.
Research data. Researchers is Saskatchewan, Canada, have taken research on the self-weaning nose rings to the next level.
They’re using pedometers – those small devices fitness buffs wear to count their steps – on calves to track their behavior.
In pastures with their dams before weaning, calves walked an average of 2-4 miles a day. Calves with self-weaning nose rings walked the same distance.
Calves with the nose rings put into the drylot system recorded steps to equal 6 miles on Day 1 and 3-4 miles on Day 2.
Calves without the nose ring that were weaned with the drylot method walked a whopping 13 miles on Day 1.
“With these numbers you can really see an example of the behaviors associated with abrupt weaning. It’s a great chance to think about how you can best reduce weaning stress,” Loerch said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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