There’s no way around it, weaning calves involves some level of stress. Anecdotal accounts of the success of a particular weaning system abound, but data is hard to come by. In the past two years, researchers at Oklahoma State University (OSU) conducted trials, with 300 calves each year, to compare relationships between calf health and performance and the following weaning systems:
- Abrupt removal from the dam.
- Fence-line weaning in which calves shared a fence line with the dam for seven days after separation.
- Nose flaps that preclude suckling for five days prior to separation.
- Temporary separation in which calves were isolated from their dams for 24 hours at 14 days prior to weaning and at seven days before weaning.
The researchers also divided each trial group into two shipment groups. For the abruptly weaned group, half shipped at weaning and the remainder stayed on the ranch for seven days. For the other three groups, half stayed on the ranch for seven days and the rest stayed for 28 days after weaning.
Based on two years of trials, OSU veterinarian Jared Taylor concludes:
- Fence-line weaning probably is the best option, if a ranch has the facilities and labor resources.
- Temporary separation prior to weaning might offer benefits, depending on logistics and calf handling.
- Abrupt weaning might not be as negative as generally believed, particularly if weaned calves can remain on the ranch for seven days or more.
- Calves weaned using nose flaps performed poorest. Taylor acknowledges producers have seen good results with the devices, though.