Wisdom on Weaning
for Tri-State Livestock News
As summer creeps into fall, weaning time may seem like it comes without warning, but that is only true for the cows and calves. For producers, planning the weaning process ahead of time is possible and necessary.
“Successful calf weaning is all about minimizing stress,” explained Dr. Brian Dorcey of Veterinary Medical Center in Worthington, MN.
Dorcey recommends that producers be proactive by working with their veterinarian to establish an aggressive pre-weaning vaccination plan.
“The first diseases that calves are challenged with is viral diseases,” he explained. These include infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), and bovine respiratory syncitial virus (BRSV).
To combat these diseases, prior to weaning producers should administer a viral respiratory vaccine, this can be either a killed or modified live vaccination, a 7 way Clostridial vaccine, and something to control parasites. After weaning and depending on the shot, producers may need to administer a booster.
For calves who are put in a feed lot, Dorsey said that it is important to control coccidiosis within the first 28 days of them being there.
And worms. “Calves carry a higher worm load than cows,” said Dorsey. As far as dewormers go, Dorsey said that he prefers injectable de-wormers because “the dosage is more accurate than most of the pour on products.”
Because of the tough spring or summer, calves may also be coming into the lots with pre-existing pneumonia Dorsey stated.
Gerald Stokka, associate professor of Animal Sciences and Extension Veterinarian/Livestock Stewardship Specialist at NDSU, recommends that producers vaccinate 2-3 weeks before weaning so that the stress of working cattle doesn’t add to the stress of weaning.
“Vaccinations at weaning time is my last choice,” he stated. He explained that if it came down to vaccinating right at weaning time, he would recommend that producers wait until after the calves have been weaned a while rather than on the first day of separation in order to reduce stress.
Along with vaccinations, Dorsey recommends that producers pull individual sick calves and “treat them with a judicious use of antibiotics.”
Stokka said that there are many forms of stress that face calves when they are weaned. These include a loss of companionship in their mother, major changes in feed, comingling stress or a restructure of their social order, relocation, and general stress of sorting and transport.
In order to minimize some of these stressors, Stokka explained that if a producer has their herd spread out into separate pastures, he recommends bringing all of the groups together to a common location to “get the co-mingling stress resolved before you wean them.”
He also advises against bring multiple groups of cattle together for the first time and then vaccinating on their first day together
If producers have the right facilities, Stokka would even recommend weaning in pastures so that the calves aren’t in a new location and so that their food source is the same as what they had all summer.
He also suggested weaning later in order to “train calves to eat feed.” Producers can use creep feed to help the calves adjust prior to weaning, but Stokka “isn’t a big fan” of creep feed.
Dorsey recommends that when in the lot and on feed that producers are “slow at bringing them up on feed and not pushing them, [but] just getting them used to everything.”
“How you handle [the calves] at weaning will help as well,” Stokka stated. Using fewer people to sort and staying calm in the corral is a good practice.
Even though many areas across the Midwest have experienced above average summer moisture, Stokka said that producers shouldn’t need to change very much in their weaning process.
As far as vaccinations go Stokka explained that “when the hide is wet, there is a higher risk of injection site reactions.” He also advised that producers avoid spilling weaned calves into wet lots right after rain if possible.
Dr. Dorsey said that some of the producers that he has been working with have reported weaning weights that are “lighter than expected.” He expects that “the grass never got hardened up with it being so wet, so it doesn’t have as much energy or nutrients.”
When weaning in a dry or wet year, Dorsey recommends that producers work with their local vet to establish a good starter mineral program.
“Paying good attention to the mineral status of calves helps them to have a good start,” he said.
Along with the lighter weaning weights, Dorsey said that the same producers reported more summer pneumonia than usual.
Stokka stated that from the producers that he’s visited with, there have been fewer reports of pink eye this summer but higher than average cases of foot rot which may be attributed to wet muddy conditions.
“Everybody is going to be different,” Dorsey said. That’s why it is important to work with the local veterinarian to develop a vaccination and nutrition program before the calves come into the lot.
As a final reminder, Stokka explained that “on the vaccine side it’s like you’re buying insurance. How you handle the calves, the nutritional status that the cows and calves have been on in the summer…even back to when the cows were pregnant and what conditions the calves were born into…sometimes [those] stressful events impact [the calves] immunity for a long time.”
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News