Animal welfare challenges often involve routine management decisions that can make a big difference in cattle well-being. Practices with an impact on welfare including nutrition, weaning and culling were addressed by presenters at last week’s International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare in Manhattan . Sponsored by Kansas State University ’s Beef Cattle Institute, the meeting attracted 200 on-site participants and more than 1,000 webcast viewers from 27 states, the District of Columbia and six foreign countries.

University of Saskatchewan applied animal behaviorist Joe Stookey told the worldwide audience while the issue of weaning doesn’t “scream” animal welfare, cow-calf producers should understand it’s the most traumatic experience in the life of a bovine animal. USDA data shows more than 42% of ranchers ship calves the day of weaning. He said, in this case, shipping fever should be renamed weaning fever.

“Weaning represents the single greatest stressor we impose on calves,” said Stookey.

Stookey has compared the health and performance of calves put in three situations: abruptly separated at weaning; subjected to a fenceline weaning system and weaned in a unique two-stage process. His studies have shown cows and calves suddenly separated at weaning eat less, ruminate less, lay down less and walk more, placing extreme stress on the immune system. This stress is reduced by using a fenceline arrangement where calves can still see and interact with the cow, but can’t nurse. Stookey said he prefers the two-stage approach, which involves the use of a plastic anti-nursing device the calf wears while remaining in the presence of the cow. Within four days, his studies have shown the pair can be separated and the typical signs of weaning stress are essentially eliminated.

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