Stress-free calf weaning methods for livestock farmers

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Jun 10, 2018 | 255 views

livestock clearing

Mhlupheki Dube
WE are now into the dry season and most farmers like to wean their calves around this time of the year. Their reason is that the dry season is the period when animals are under a lot of nutritional stress due to the dwindling and deteriorating pastures. Therefore, to lessen the nutritional drain burden on lactating cows farmers opt for early wean. This usually has two main benefits which are interlinked.

Firstly, your cow will maintain a healthy body condition score because it no longer has the nutritional burden of a suckling calf. Secondly, maintaining a good body condition score ensures that your cows will resume cycling earlier, therefore, reducing the inter-calving period. In that regard we wish to assist farmers on how to wean their calves without causing too much stress on them.

Weaning is a stressful period for both the dam and calf hence certain methods have to be adopted to minimise the stress.

Firstly, you need to pre-condition both the dam and the calf to the upcoming weaning. This means allowing for extended separation periods between the two during the day and also introducing the calf to such feeds as hay bales. This will make for soft landing of the calf and the cow into the separation period, especially if you are weaning by separation.

However, most smallholder farmers wean by use of weaning plates, some of them very brutal in nature!

The second preparation for weaning is conducting all the necessary husbandry practices on the calf at least a month before weaning. These will include vaccinations, branding, castration and de-horning. These can be very stressful and it is not wise to add the stress of weaning on top. If these practices are done at weaning they can cause serious stress and even illness to the calf and in some cases calf mortalities.

In cases where farmers wean by separating the calves from the cows it is important to move the cows from the paddocks and leave the calves in their familiar environment. Actually the calves should be put in a paddock which is adjacent to the one with cows. This is also called fence line weaning and it has an advantage of reducing vocalisation from calves as they will be seeing the cows on site.

Additionally the calves, because they are not wailing and looking for the cows, they spend most of their time grazing, which is good for growth and adjustment. It is also important to provide weaning calves an energy dense diet if the farmer is feeding them.

Calves at weaning stage need high levels of energy in their diets for development. Also be on the lookout for calves that may need attention. These are calves which may become ill and may need to be attended to during this period.

If you are feeding your cows do not feed milk stimulating feeds. Weaning is the beginning of the dry period for the cow hence milk stimulating feeds should be avoided. Also during this weaning period calves should have access to clean water so that they do not suffer from any water related illness. The stress in calves makes them susceptible to infections and diseases hence the need to manage this period carefully.

Other than the dos and don’ts of the weaning it is also important to note that the weaning period is the second most exciting period for the farmer on his farm. The first excitement period is when your cow has calved down. It is both an increase in your herd and a confirmation that now you can dispose some animals.

Your calving rate determines your off-take rate under normal circumstances. The weaning period is exciting in that if it is successfully done the farmer would have taken his calves beyond the critical mortality phases.

It is no secret that it is more common to lose a calf than a steer or heifer. In other words if your calves are at the weaning stage and they have gone past it successfully they are almost out of the woods as it relates to calf mortalities. Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.

Feedback mazikelana@gmail.com or cell 0772851275.

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