Weaning is an important dry season management strategy

18 Sep, 2022 - 00:09 0 Views
Weaning is an important dry season management strategy Weaners

The Sunday News

WE are now well into the dry season and most animals are beginning to lose condition as the veld becomes more and more depleted and water sources, scarce and far apart. This means your animals are struggling to get barely enough forage for maintenance.

There is not enough nutrient distribution to other important body functions such as growth and reproduction. The animal is technically concerned about remaining alive in the midst of diminishing feed sources. This is the time when boys are separated from men in so far as good animal husbandry practices are concerned. This is the time when you can easily identify a farmer who bought the animals for himself and the one who inherited the animals from a deceased parent.

Those that felt the pain on parting with hard-earned money to invest in purchasing livestock will invariably go that extra mile to make sure their investment does not go to waste. One critical management component which most livestock farmers especially in smallholder communal areas always seem to neglect in critical times like the dry season, is weaning old calves. Weaning is an important management practice that should not be neglected.


Your calves can be successfully weaned anytime from seven months old. When a calf gets older it naturally draws more milk from the mother. This means the mother needs more feed to produce the milk required by the calf. This amount of feed will obviously not be available during the dry season. It thus becomes a serious nutritional stress on the lactating cow to get sufficient food to produce the required amount of milk while maintaining its body condition.

As a result, lactating cows, especially those with older calves will severely deteriorate during the dry season if not supplemented. Supplementing can be expensive if you are not producing your own fodder, therefore it becomes prudent to timeously wean the older calf and allow the cow to maintain a fair body condition. Weaning in good time will also ensure that your cow will recover its lost condition much fast when the rainy season begins and there is now sufficient green grass.

This will ensure that your cows will go into breeding much earlier into the rainy season because they did not waste away a lot during the dry season because of an unweaned calf.

Muchero (left) and farm manager Mr Christopher Chirambaguwa inside a cattle pen with Limousin weaners

Weaning is, however, not always easy in communal areas because of lack of paddocks to separate the calves from the cows. This is aggravated by the ineffective weaner plates that are currently in the market. Anyone who has used the weaner plates being sold by most veterinary shops will tell you that most calves with those plates somehow get to learn to suckle even with that weaner plate.

In fact, most farmers now prefer to use a lot of home-made versions of weaner plates that are proving to be much effective that the ones sold in the market. Another challenge is that weaner plates are good for smaller herds, say five or so calves. As the number of calves increase it becomes better to use other weaning methods especially weaning by separation.

Imagine having to put weaner plates on 60 calves! The most appropriate method for such number of calves will be weaning by separation, not exactly an easy method in a communal set up. This means the farmer has to find either an enclosed grazing area where you can put the calves and keep them away from their mothers for at least two weeks.

Alternatively, you can keep them in the pens and feed them during the separation period making sure they do not go out. This obviously comes at a cost because the more the number of calves the more the feed you will need to give them during separation.

However, I will still say the cost is justified if it helps your cows to keep a fair body condition that will allow them to go into breeding much earlier when the season comes. Whichever method is applicable and cost effective to you, it is paramount that livestock farmers wean their calves earlier before getting into the dry season so that your cows will not waste away during the dry season and fail to go into breeding during the rainy season.

Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.
Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected]/ cell 0772851275

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