Thursday, July 11, 2024
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Fenceline Weaning for Calves

Last week we shared a two-stage weaning process that reduces stress and illness and maintains or improves weight gain. Here’s another option that also reduces stress: Fenceline weaning.

Abruptly separating mother and young is noisy. There’s a lot of mooing and fence walking. It can go on for up to three days, and while it’s happening, young animals don’t eat like they should and the resulting stress increases cases of respiratory infections.

Here’s 40 seconds of what traditional weaning can sound like:


Fenceline weaning reduces vocalization, and fence walking to a degree, and though it doesn’t have quite the results of the two-stage weaning process, it’s still a good alternative.

As the name suggests, mother and young are separated and put on opposite sides of a fence. Here are some suggestions to improve your success and the animals’ experience.

1. Move the cows, not the calves.

Leaving the calves in a pasture they’re used to means they already know where food and water is. That improves their chances at maintaining hydration and weight.

As you’re rotating pastures, plan ahead so that you can put pairs into a pasture about a week before weaning.

2. Feed new foods while cows and calves are together.

Young animals learn best about new foods from Mom, so if you’re planning to supplement the calves as part of your preconditioning program, let them try the new foods while they’re in pasture with Mom. This Guide from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension suggests supplementing pairs “three days a week beginning about three weeks before weaning. This will teach calves to eat supplement and familiarize them with the supplement truck/feeder.

Here’s more on how important learning from Mom is:

How Do Animals Choose What to Eat? Part 1 – Mother Knows Best

3. Fencing must be sturdy.

Canada’s Beef Cattle Research Council suggests welded wire fencing, or even a 6 strand barbed wire fence to keep mother and young separate. They add that, “If the calves are familiar with electric fencing, 2-3 strands of electric wire may be enough.”

With fencing issues in mind, some producers wean in corrals. Cows are locked in corrals while the calves are left loose in the pasture just outside the corral in an environment they’re familiar with.

4. Give animals plenty of fenceline and plenty of water.

This picture from a Noble Foundation trial, shows a strong, long fenceline and a good shared water source.

Animals will be most calm if they can spread out along the fence and pair up on opposite sides of the fence. If the fenceline available to them is too short, they’ll bunch up and make more noise as they try to find each other.


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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. Kathy this has not been my experience with fence line weaning. The calves do not pace the fence and there is very little bawling. I am curious of the method used to wean? When fence line weaning was explained to me, I was told to set things up so you don’t have to go near the pasture for three days. To observe the calves for any problems, find a hiding spot and use binoculars. I have used this system at least 7 times with negligible bawling and no sickness. The only time there has been any issue is when I had to go and fix a frozen water valve. Both cows and calves came running to the fence bawling just like a normal weaning situation. Fortunately, the cacophony died down within 45 minutes of me leaving the area. After three days we walk the cows to a new pasture and the calves don’t really seem to notice, nor do the cows.

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