Weaning

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Source: National Farm Animal Care Council, Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle Section 4.6

Weaning is the process of eliminating milk from the calf’s diet (44). Under natural conditions, a cow’s milk output decreases gradually over several months. Under conventional beef production, calves are typically weaned at 5-8 months of age.

The loss of contact between cow and calf is stressful for both and the loss of milk is additionally stressful for the calf (3). Newly weaned calves are at an increased risk for getting sick, in particular when other stressors are added, such as transportation and commingling with unfamiliar calves (45).

Most weaning methods use some form of separation of the cow and calf. Weaning is usually accomplished by abruptly removing the calf from physical and visual contact with the dam. Fence-line weaning is a variation of abrupt weaning where calves are separated from their dams and placed in an adjacent pen or pasture so that auditory and visual contact is maintained. Two-stage weaning first prevents nursing by placing a nose-flap on the calf while still with the cow. In the second stage, the nose-flap is removed and the cow and calf are separated (3).

RECOMMENDED PRACTICES

  1. develop a weaning strategy that minimizes stress (3)
  2. consider preconditioning or pre-vaccinating calves as part of your weaning strategy (3)
  3. consider a low-stress weaning strategy, such as two-stage or fenceline weaning (3)
  4. be prepared to wean earlier if pasture resources are limited and cow body condition scores are below target levels (Table 2.1) (3).

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