Tips to reduce weaning stress

02:37PM Aug 22, 2008
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Understand primary weaning stressors

The first step in managing stress at weaning, says Kansas State University beef systems specialist Justin Waggoner, is to recognize the stressors or sources of stress for calves. Those include:

  • maternal separation
  • moving to a new environment and
  • becoming accustomed to unfamiliar feedstuffs.
Once the sources of stress have been identified, management practices that reduce the effects of these stressors may be implemented.

Weaning time is here but there are ways to reduce the stress associated with weaning for both calves and cattle producers, says Justin W. Waggoner, beef systems specialist at Kansas State University. His tips:

  • Don't add additional stressors. Castration, dehorning, and branding add to the stress of weaning. These tasks should be completed a minimum of 3 weeks prior to weaning.
  • Provide access to the weaning pen or pasture a few days/weeks prior to weaning. This allows calves to become accustomed to the area.
  • Feed cows and calves small amounts of the feed in the weaning pen or pasture. This allows calves to become familiar with new feedstuffs as well as the bunks, tubs or feeders.
  • Move the cows not the calves. Once both cows and calves have become accustomed to the weaning pen or pasture, remove the cows from the area, leaving the calves in a familiar area.
  • Allow fenceline contact if practical. Research indicates that allowing fenceline contact between cows and calves for 7 days after separation reduces behavioral stress and minimizes post-weaning weight loss. Fences should be sturdy and tight enough that calves cannot nurse. If fenceline contact is not practical, then cows should be moved to a location where they cannot hear calves.
  • Clean the pen. If using a drylot for weaning, remove the previous years manure and start with a clean pen to minimize dust and allows pens to drain better.
  • Minimize fence-walking by placing feed bunks or water tanks along the perimeter of the weaning area. This also allows calves to come in contact with feedstuffs and water sources.
  • Establish a herd health program with your veterinarian that includes a vaccination program and a treatment plan for calves that become sick.

Bonus content:

Links to research on fenceline weaning management.

For more information about fence line weaning management see E. O. Price, J. E. Harris, R. E. Borgwardt, M. L. Sween and J. M. Connor. 2003. Fenceline contact of beef calves with their dams at weaning reduces the negative effects of separation on behavior and growth rate. J. Anim. Sci. 81:116-121.