While there's no magic formula that works for everyone at weaning time, Wes Peterson, Breckenridge cattleman, and Missouri Extension beef specialists offer these tried-and-true ranch remedies for getting calves off to a healthy and more profitable start.
* Raise them right – Low-stress management starts the day a calf is born at Peterson's Rafter P Farms. Peterson selects for strong maternal traits plus good disposition in his commercial cowherd and herd sires. Peterson also puts a lot of effort into developing gentle calves.
"I want calves to get accustomed to people and our routine," Peterson explains. "It's easy to drive along in your pickup and check cattle from the road. But if you want your cattle to handle better and calmer, go out to the herd on foot at least once a day. Closely inspect the calves and your pasture. Then sit down and relax awhile. Let your calves come up to you and make eye and nose contact."
* Use feed bunk training – Ease your calves into the weaning and preconditioning stage. Give calves a little creep feed and place the creep feeder in a lot or in a grass paddock that adjoins the calving pasture. Lot layout and design are important. Build pens fairly narrow, not too deep, to prevent calves from bunching up far away from the feed bunk.
* Fenceline weaning. Peterson strives to make weaning a smooth transition. On the day of weaning, he quietly separates the calves from the cows and keeps the calves in the lot. Cows stay in a pasture that shares the fence line. "The mother cows' presence has a calming effect on calves, resulting in less stress," he says. Some cow-calf producers prefer weaning calves only on pasture. This prevents calves from being subjected to excess amounts of dust or mud.
* Keep 'em apart – A good fence to separate cows from calves is essential to successful calf weaning. A three-wire electric or high-tensile fence is recommended. An offset hot wire on a permanent fence also is effective.
Read more on reducing weaning time stress and fenceline weaning in the September issue of Missouri Ruralist, Livestock section.