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Weaning Calves on Pasture

Fence-line weaning calves has become much more common in the last few years. We’ve been weaning calves this way since 1987. We didn’t discover this method by study and research, but by cows and calves busting loose the first night of weaning and ending up next to each other on the opposite side of a woven wire fence. Since we weren’t sure we could get the calves back to the weaning pen without a great deal of work and seeing how calm both groups were lying in the field, we decided to leave them on grass right where they were. It worked so well we just kept on weaning this way. Over the years we’ve weaned thousand of calves using this method and can count on one hand the number of calves we’ve had to treat for sickness.

Here are few photos of weaning day last week. This isn’t very exciting but I enjoy seeing how other producers do things on their farms and I hope you do as well.

Bringing the cows to the working pens.

The cows were close to two miles away on this cold, grey Missouri morning. The above picture shows a new lane (and our new boss post!) we built to help bring the cows through some pretty wild country. I lead the cows and Judy brings up the rear. The cattle were full this morning and in no hurry. The cows, at this point in the drive, were spread out close to a mile. They were all walking, but some walked faster than others!

Made it to the pens!


Our pens are located in the center of our farm so we make it a habit to bring the cows through the pens as we move them from pasture to pasture. Some days we’ll lock them in for an hour or so just to let them become used to being there and not feel they will always be worked when the gates are shut.

Judy loading the sorting pen.


If you look over Judy’s shoulder in the above photo you’ll see about 100 pairs out on pasture. Our pens hold can hold about 250 pairs but we’ve found that if we keep no more than 100 head in the pens it’s a lot less stress on everyone. Then as the 100 are worked they go right back out on pasture and we bring in the next 100 head. This way no one stays locked  up for very long.

Sorting cows from their calves.

We use a cutting gate (my job) but between Judy’s ability to sort in the pen and the cows learning the system there are very few times the gate has to be used. One of our goals is to see how many cows/calves continue to chew their cud while we carry out the sorting.

Calves being sorted from their mothers.

The calves had been worked three weeks before weaning. Today they will just be sorted and taken back to pasture, but with a fence between them and their mothers. They don’t seemed to be too worried about being in the pens again.

One group sorted.


After each group is sorted we lead them down to pasture-cows on one side of the fence and calves on the other. Cattle are off grass for less than an hour.

Calves back to pasture. Weaned!

We’re two days into the weaning process and the bawling is about over. I didn’t take photos of the calves and cows on pasture but will try to post some this week. This system of weaning really keeps the stress low and the calves gaining right through the whole process.

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