Who’s blabbing now?
December 9, 2008
Proud cattlemen are always bragging about the premiums they got for their calves because they were all one color, all natural, had all their shots, or were all age and sourced. In my experience there is one thing you can do to insure that you’re calves will ALWAYS fetch more money: wean them from their mommas.
To wean or not to wean… that is the question!
Professors and armchair advisors are always urging ranchers to interrupt the mother/child relationship by weaning their calves. But that’s easier said than done. I’d like to see them try to wean calves on some of the places I’ve leased. Oh, I tried it once, just like I tried eating fried tofu once. It made me sick in both cases.
Years ago I grew some hay with my farmer brother-in-law and, unlike now, you couldn’t hardly give the stuff away. Rather than take a big loss I decided to use my share of the hay to wean my calves. In retrospect, if the hay had all burned up I’d have lost less money… and less sleep. I didn’t sleep a wink while all the desperate wailing went on. And that was just my wife, those snot-nosed calves made a lot of noise too. You’d have thought the cows would have appreciated me relieving them of their parental responsibilities but they huddled up like buffalo in a snowstorm and wouldn’t leave the weaning pens for 10 long days. And nights!
Weaning calves has been a problem ever since the first cow got pregnant. A century ago a milk cow was a common sight on farms and ranches. Because her milk was for the family, not her calf, such calves were said to be “hit in the head with the churn dasher.” Although they weren’t actually hit in the head, at least in some cases, that’s not to suggest that barbaric ways of weaning didn’t exist. Some rural folks had all the compassion of a rabid skunk and occasionally made a slit down the middle of a calf’s tongue with a knife. Such calves were called “tongue splitters” and they were unable to suck. If PETA and the Humane Society had been around back then they’d have had a field day.
One option has always been to “fence line wean” your calves but ranchers who do this must have much better fences than I do. If I built a six foot high block wall around my corrals the little buggers would burrow under it!
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In the old days doohickeys were invented to help with weaning. I have one huge contraption made from two straps of steel that bolted around the calf’s neck. One arm sticks up in the air and another points downward so that when the calf tried to sneak through the fence the arms would hit the barb wire and repel the calf. (I don’t think it would work with my spider-web-like fences.) I have a deluxe model that has two sharp points on the ends of the arms just in case the calf made it through the fence and got back to her mother. In trying to suck these points would hit the udder and the mother’s love look in her eye would vanish faster than a box of donuts at a calf branding. Can you imagine what a cow must have thought when her calf approached wearing such a device? And just think of a poor bull calf or steer trying to impress the heifers with such an un-cool looking device hanging around his neck!
Blab boards, blabs and spike weaners all worked on the same principle. They attached in the calf’s nose like a bull ring and when the calf tried to suck the cow would be jabbed and would kick her calf off. I see now where a company is trying to market an all new plastic blab that works on the same principle. I bet they work too, but I don’t think I will be using them because it means I’d have to rope all my calves twice. Once to put them in and once to take them out. I have a hard enough time getting my twine around a calf’s neck once. I can’t imagine getting that lucky twice!
No, I think I will continue to wean my calves using the easiest and most popular method that ranchers have successfully been utilizing for decades: I’ll just send them to the auction market and let them worry about the precious little darlings!
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