Low Stress Weaning — Happier, Healthier Calves

Most farmers and ranchers use traditional methods to wean their calves. In most instances, when calves are about 6 months old, they are taken away from their mothers and immediately loaded onto a cattle liner. They are then most commonly shipped to an auction market where they are unloaded, sorted and put through a very loud auction ring and sold. From there they are loaded back onto a truck and shipped to their final destination, which is usually an intensive livestock operation (ILO). This weaning stress often causes what is called shipping fever and results in mass medication of the calves upon arrival to their destination to prevent death loss and the spread of infection.

On TK Ranch we want to decrease animal stress as much as possible. Prior to weaning we move our cows with their calves to what we call our weaning pasture. They stay there together for a day or two then we move them into our sorting corrals. Here we temporarily separate them and put the calves individually through our squeeze (a device that holds the calf without hurting it) to place a weaning tag into each calf’s septum (the cartilaginous piece of skin between the nostrils). This tag does not pierce the septum, but instead it is held by the natural design of the nostrils. These square plastic tags are 10 centimeters across and allow a calf to graze and drink, but prevent it from nursing on its mother. After having the tag put in the calf is released into the company of its mother until weaning is complete and the nursing bond is broken, about 4 days. We then sort the cows and calves again, move the cows out of this pasture and remove the nose tags from the calves. We then turn the calves back into the weaning pasture where they are familiar with the location of feed and water.

We have been using weaning tags since 2002 and feel that this process dramatically decreases the stress these calves experience. As a result, our herd stays healthy throughout weaning and rarely requires medication.