Dana Zook (column mug)ENE

I recently sent my daughter to pre-K. As a mom who typically encourages her kid’s independence, I was unprepared for my own “first day of school experience.”

Norah was all smiles and couldn’t wait to start the day, while I was trying to hold it together. I felt better when I noticed that a variety of emotions were widespread on the school yard. Some kids like Norah were excited to start their day and others could not understand why their beloved parents were dropping them off at this scary place. I was not alone in my emotional state, with a lot of parents giving extra hugs before sending them on their way.

With this crazy experience under my belt, I feel like I have a whole new understanding of weaning season in the cattle industry. Without proper transition, the dramatic parting at the school door or weaning a calf from a mother cow can be stressful for both parties involved.

Traditionally, the cattle industry has employed weaning methods involving total separation of cow and calf, often moving them miles apart. As one could expect, this causes a great deal of stress. Stress compromises the immune system, which can have a negative effect on heath, feed intake and weight gain.

To reduce stress during this crucial time, a contrasting form of management that has gained traction is fence-line weaning. Fence line weaning is a management process that allows fence-line contact between cow and calf up to 10 days following weaning. This transitions the calf to their new environment and allows cow and calf to visually see one another. On a recent SunUp episode, Dr. Mark Johnson reported that fence-line weaning reduces bawling and walking in newly weaned calves. In studies using this method calves were more rested and consumed more feed, gaining weight even through the transition.

Another way to reduce stress for calves is to wean them in proper facilities. Initially putting calves in a familiar pen or trap with some shade will help smooth the transition. This way, calves are accustomed to the feeding, watering and grazing areas. There is nothing I hate more than seeing newly weaned calves in a hot, dusty dry lot. Even the best quality calves have trouble succeeding in this environment.

As someone passionate about cattle nutrition, I understand the value of weaning nutrition. Producers should be prepared to provide calves with familiar feeds that are palatable and provide a greater concentration of nutrition to compensate for low intake. Rations should be highly palatable with high energy/high fiber-based commodities such alfalfa, soybean hulls and wheat midds. Whole corn also is a good partner with these feeds and is often locally available. Start calves on a palatable ration at 1% of body weight and adjust slowly from there.

Initially, complete feeds that include fiber components are preferred over free choice hay. When free choice hay is provided, calves may forgo the ration and eat only hay, leaving them undernourished. Early on, confirm that calves are consuming the ration fully and then provide some good hay by hand. After calves are through the initial few weeks of weaning, introduce free-choice hay. Timely feeding practices twice daily is important to keep cattle coming to bunk; this also allows for easy identification of calves showing signs of illness. After calves are adjusted, stick to the nutritional plan. What amount of feed has been budgeted for weaning? While tons of feed make beautiful, shiny, fat calves, excess weight gain is not rewarded at sale time. Don’t break the budget on feed that is not needed.

Whether you are sending your kids off to school or weaning calves, transitions are important. For calves, remember to consider aspects of using fence line weaning, familiar facilities and providing high quality nutrition. If you have any questions about weaning management or nutrition, contact your local county OSU Extension office for assistance. Happy fall!

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Zook is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service northwest area livestock specialist.

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