Most veterinarians agree, weaning is the most stressful life event for young cattle. Ours were born this spring and moved out to pasture this summer. Aside from the occasional blizzard, their lives have been easy-peasy.
After we sort the two groups, the farm gets pretty noisy with moo-ing! We are aware of the stress that the calves are going through, so we do our absolute best to make them as comfortable as possible. Stress can weaken their immune system and cause them to become sick. There are two reasons the calves are stressed:
- They are no longer able to drink Mom’s milk.
- They are in a new environment.
It is important for the cows to stop giving the calves milk because winter is coming. Lactating cows require more feed to keep a constant body weight. Removing the calves may seem harsh, but it is for the health benefit of both animals. Now, the cows are back out on the pasture. They can begin to gain weight and prepare for winter.
After getting the calves out of the pasture we weighed them and gave a dose of de-wormer. The calves weigh about 500 pounds now (about 75-85 at birth). Going forward, they will gain about 2-2.5 pounds a day. The calves’ weight is a measure of our success as caretakers, we want the calves to have a high weaning weight, because this means they got plenty of nutrients – from grass in the pasture and milk from mom.
The calves are nervous in the new environment at first, we watch them carefully. During chores, John makes sure they all come up to the feed bunk to eat. The calves also have to find the water tank and learn to drink from it.
We put a radio near the pen so there is constant noise during the first few nights. If it is really quiet and then truck drives down the road, the calves could get spooked. They might all run and push down a fence! The radio keeps them calm (statistics show no measurable difference among station selection, Miley Cyrus and George Strait will both do the trick).
Signs of sickness (caused by the stress) include: coughing, weazing, droopy ears, laying down instead of eating. It is easy to spot one who is getting sick. Healthy calves have clear eyes, clear snot and they are eating often or walking to water. So far, all of our calves are healthy (and hungry).
Good weaning methods can make this time much less stressful on the calves–keeping them healthy and growing. Now, we just keep a close eye on the calves to monitor their health.