Specialists at the University of Nebraska remind producers stress is the No. 1 issue that impacts calf performance at weaning. Calves are being removed from their dams and a herd social structure in which they were comfortable. Plus, the calves are often being moved into a different environment with new feed and water sources.
The following are things which can be done to reduce stress at weaning, helping calves stay healthy and adjust to their new environment.
• Have a good herd-health-program plan. This can help reduce sickness at weaning, improve the treatment response of those calves that do get sick and increase the overall performance of calves during weaning.
• Precondition calves prior to weaning.
• Work with your veterinarian to plan vaccination strategies and treatment protocols.
In certain parts of the country, strategic mineral supplementation when the calves are with their dams prior to weaning may be beneficial for getting good immune response. Minerals such as copper, zinc, cobalt and manganese are important to immune system function. A lack of these minerals in feed sources or high levels of other minerals such as sulfur, which can inhibit absorption of minerals, can impact immune response.
Introduce new feeds
Introducing new feeds to calves while they are with their dams prior to weaning can help calves start on feed more quickly when they are weaned. Feedstuffs should be palatable with minimal fines and dust. Evaluate feeds to determine if they have adequate levels of protein and energy to meet desired performance goals.
Use a two-step weaning process
Fence-line weaning calves or placing nose weaners into calves four to seven days before removal from their dams are a couple of methods to accomplish this. Both of these methods prevent the calves from nursing while still giving the calf social contact with its dam. This gradual process appears to help the calves forget about nursing and begin the transition to being on their own and part of a new herd.
Ideally, fence-line weaning should be in an environment that allows both cows and calves to spread out along the fence, has minimal dust present and provides feed and water resources for the calves that are familiar and close to the fence. Consider supplementing calves while they are still with their dams, beginning two weeks before fenceline weaning. Leave calves in the pasture they are used to being in and move cows to the adjacent pasture. A number of studies have shown calves that were fence-line weaned have lower incidents of sickness compared to their contemporaries that were hard-weaned and immediately separated from visual and audio contact with their dams. The beef.unl.edu website offers webinars and other information on weaning calves.