Weanin’ Calves…

I remember when I weaned each one of my girls.  It was a transition time and while it was not always easy, it was definitely necessary.

My youngest daughter on the day of her birth–it is hard to believe that she used to be that little!

Time passes, things change, babies turn into toddlers and before you know it they head off to school.  The next day (it seems) you wake up and your “baby” is taller than you…

Almost 8 years later, she is the tallest child in her 2nd grade class–she has a few more inches to go to catch me but not very many! Her oldest sister already has several inches on me which she considers very cool…

While animals are undeniably different than humans, there is also a time to wean.  This time is contingent on available nutrition (for both the cow and the calf), and the age of the calf.  The drought of 2012 has necessitated earlier than normal weaning for many calves in Nebraska.  The availability of nutrient rich grass is scarce as Mother Nature has not provided well for us this summer.

This little guy was only a couple of weeks old when this picture was taken—he will come to me next week as an 8 month old calf that weighs about 500#…He was weaned on his home ranch about 6 weeks ago due to lack of grass for his mama to graze.

The nutritional requirements for a nursing cow are high, and it is a more efficient use of our current limited supply of natural resources to wean the calf from the cow.  Both animals will prosper more efficiently without being dependent on lactation.

The milk requirements for this calf increases as he gets larger with age. When he gets to weighing about 500#, it becomes hard on the mother cow to continue to nurse him. This is a good time to wean the calf…

Sometimes calves are weaned on the home ranch in neighboring pastures from their mamas.  Sometimes the necessary feed is not available on the ranch so the calves are weaned on another farm.  Weaning is undoubtedly a stressful time for both the cow and the calf—it is a time of transition and change.  During this transition time, it is important to teach the calf how to satisfy his own needs without his mama.  There are things that I can provide and teach my animals as their caregiver to help them make this transition.

The water tank and mineral licks shown here are similar to what the animals had on the home ranch.  This familiarity is vitally important during the transition phase…

Through the acclimation process, I teach the calves where the feed bunk and water tank are in addition to helping them realize that everything that they need is in the new home pen.  Acclimation is a very powerful tool for me as I wean calves—by helping the animals realize that a pen with fresh feed, water, and their herd-mates is a good place to be, my calves experience less stress and stay healthier.

The prairie hay we feed to them is also very familiar to the calves as it is the same grass hay that they ate alongside their mama’s before weaning…The added wet distillers grains gives the calf the protein and nutrients that he needs to take the place of mama’s milk…

It is very rewarding for me to watch my calves quickly reclaim contentment and begin the new phase of their lives in the feed yard.  Content calves that look for the feed truck with anticipation as it delivers prairie hay, wheat straw, and wet distillers grains grow well and will ultimately make great tasting beef!

Over the next couple of weeks, I will talk in more detail about the care that I offer to these younger (an average of 8 months old) animals as they move off of the ranch and into the feed yard.  Keeping them content and healthy as they move through the transition is incredibly important (and time consuming).  I will do my best to continue my bi-weekly posting, but if I miss a post please know that it is only because long hours at the feed yard kept me from writing…


Filed under Animal Welfare, Foodie Work!, General

2 responses to “Weanin’ Calves…

  1. Nebraska Farm Wife

    We weaned our calves the last couple weeks in August (month earlier than normal). I love the feeling of when I walk to the gate (to open it for the hubby with the feed wagon, my job title is “AGO” or “Automatic Gate Opener”) and the group of calves run up to the gate with such excitement to see me (well the feed wagon behind me). I can’t help but smile and laugh as the run and play all the way to the bunk. There always seems to be a couple though that will stay by the gate a few moments longer just to check me out.

  2. Pingback: Weaning Calves on the Hadricks' South Dakota Ranch VIDEO - a colorful adventure

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