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Practice Stockmanship to Make Weaning Easier On Your Calves

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
November 4, 2015

Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Practice Stockmanship to Make Weaning Easier On Your Calves
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (11/4/15) —I’ve discussed many times before the importance of good stockmanship and safe cattle handling for dairy cows and calves.  Today, I’d like to talk a little more about safe cattle handling for beef producers.  Specifically, I want to discuss how to safely handle your cattle in a low-stress manner during weaning. 

The major principle of effective stockmanship is using the basic instincts of cattle to your advantage.  These basic instincts include wanting to be able to see you and keeping you a safe distance away.  Cattle are prey animals, so they have a fairly sensitive flight zone.  The flight zone is the area around them that if they feel is pressured, they will move away--or “take flight”--from the pressure.

Weaning is a stressful time for calves, so handling them with proper stockmanship in mind is a great way to reduce some of that stress.  Teaching calves to respond to you in a low-stress way begins at birth.  Think about when you ear-tag calves—you should be doing it calmly and slowly.  If you allow calves to resist your restraint and run all over the place, they learn very early that this is how they should respond when in any sort of a processing situation.  Practice and prepare for weaning time in other situations that require cow and calf separation, such as vaccinations, branding, or synchronizing. 

A tip from Tom Noffsinger, stockmanship expert and Nebraska veterinarian, is to use adjoining pens when sorting.  Bring pairs into one pen, move them to the other, and then back to the original pen.  Next, sort off the cows and put them on pasture while keeping the calves penned up overnight.  Noffsinger’s method can be used in a variety of situations leading up to weaning, and then for weaning itself.   By getting calves used to moving and being separated from the cows, they will be less stressed by it by the time weaning rolls around. 

There are so many physical and physiological stressors during weaning, including calves being separated from their mothers, being moved, being in a new environment, and having new feed and water.  Making the move itself less stressful can help reduce the effects from these other stressors. 



Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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