Fenceline weaning: Take 1

This year we tried something different when it came time to wean the calves.  Weaning typically happens in October or November when the calves are about six months old.  We like to wean before taking the cows to graze cornstalks.  Cornstalks aren't really high quality feed, but they are good enough for a non-lactating cow.  To keep a calf growing usually requires better feed than what cornstalks provide.  The difference this year was the manner in which we separated the cows and calves.  The old way was to bring everything into the corral, sort cows from calves, and keep everything locked in separate pens for a few days.  This year we left everything in the pasture, and used a three-wire electric fence to keep them separate.

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It worked pretty well.  There was one cow that crawled in with the calves, and three calves that crawled in with the cows.  That's not a big deal, since we had a portable corral set up to sort them again.

The blue tub on the left side of the fence held a liquid supplement for the calves.  It contained minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and probiotics designed to help the calves manage the stress of being weaned. 

There are several advantages to weaning this way.  The calves get to stay on mostly the same diet as they have had, minus the milk.  Doing it the old way, they would have to eat dry hay or other feed in the corral.  Changing diets causes some stress as they learn to eat something different and their body adjusts to it.  With fenceline weaning, the calves can still be close to their mothers.  The social bond with their mother is broken more slowly and naturally once they realize they aren't getting any more milk from mama.  Keeping the cattle on pasture keeps dust and mud to a minimum and gives the calves room to spread out.  Dust and mud are a bigger problem when calves are already stressed from the weaning process.  Last year when we weaned, I was very concerned about dust due to the drought.  This year we had 3 inches of rain a few days after weaning, so mud would have been a problem had we put everything in the corral.

It was a good learning experience.  I would call it a success and plan to do fenceline weaning again in the future.

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