When weaning calves do you consider stress? Stress is probably the main cause of any sickness arising from weaning. Consider the gathering and sorting and running them through a chute, poking them with a needle, and then putting them in an unfamiliar place, feeding them strange food in an unfamiliar bunk. Think about that? If you were a calf would you be stressed? Fence line weaning on grass is a proven concept, but doing it properly takes more than just putting calves behind a fence. The whole method should be called into question. We need to work cattle on their terms, not ours. Cattle don’t care how fast you want to do something. They don’t care if you want to do something in a certain man decided way. That is not how their brain works.
Begin with rethinking the gathering to bring them to the pens. What are a cow and her calf’s morning routine? About daylight the cow begins grazing and allows the calf to suck. Maybe not all at once, but as she grazes. After the calf has its fill of milk it also starts grazing. This goes on for two or three hours at least before they head to water. What if you are out there soon after daylight and driving them to a pen? Both are disrupted in their normal day. The cow hasn’t got her fill and much worse, the calf has an empty belly. As soon as you get them to the pens sorting begins. If there is some hollering and chasing, slamming of gates, this also is stressful. Then into a crowding pen and pushed through a squeeze chute and vaccinated and maybe other procedures performed. Next they are put in a pen with strange feed to eat. This feed will cause rumen stress. How do you feel when you eat something you are not used to and get an upset stomach? The calves are now going through the same thing.
Now consider the cow and her calf and change methods to work WITH them. Wait at least two to three hours after daylight to begin gathering. The cow and her calf both have full bellies. Life is good. Gather and drive to pens as easily as possible. The main point here is to keep the cow and calf paired up if possible. Keep them comfortable. When you get them to the pens, go off and do something else for an hour. Drink a cup of coffee or whatever. Just give them time to settle down and let the calf suck again. Life is good. Comfortable cattle will work much easier.
You do not need a magnificent set of of pens to sort your pairs if you use good techniques. If you are not familiar with the Bud Williams method go to Hand n Hand Livestock and also look them up on You Tube. Study their work and use it. There are others teaching similar concepts who can be found in an internet search.
What I did after sorting may seem to be somewhere off in nutsville, and that is I then put the calves directly out on grass with no vaccinations. At one time I did all the RIGHT things including vaccinations. When beginning fence line weaning on grass I quit vaccinating. I relied on the lack of stress to prevent sickness and never had a sick calf. The calves went out on grass with a FULL belly. Life is good. In 2001 with the drought becoming critical I decided to early wean, giving the cows a little better chance to put on more fat before winter. My calving had begun in late April and extended into late June with a few cows. Popular knowledge said I had to pen the calves, buy special feed, vaccinate for several things and baby the calves. I ignored popular knowledge. On August 20 I weaned the older calves. They stayed full on grass, were content and gaining weight. The younger calves were weaned the first of September with no sick calves.
If you want to sell your calves as vaccinated, wait until they are doing well to run them through the chute. If you are wintering your calves, consider not vaccinating them. If you feel they need vaccinations, do so, but at least think of this concept and maybe try it with a few calves.
I know there are some that will say, “I do not have time to do it this way. I gotta’ get’em in and get it done. Got too much other work to do.” First, it will not take much longer and the time spent on the front end in prevention will save hours of labor and expense treating sick calves. And a sick calf is not gaining weight.
Editors Note: Chip shares his thoughts, ideas and experience in book form. You can check them out on his website!