Tips for successful weaning

Shawn Deering

It is the time of the year when beef producers will begin weaning spring-born calves. Weaning is part of the pre-conditioning process that along with vaccinations and getting calves bunk broke and started on feed can help producers realize better sale prices. The following tips are taken from a presentation that Dr. Eric Bailey used at our MU Feedlot School in August. He presented some real-world, common-sense ideas that I feel we have overlooked when it comes to weaning calves. He stressed the point that when we wean calves, we are totally changing their environment. Not only are we removing them from their mother, but we are most often placing them into a dry lot which is totally foreign to them. They are going from a large pasture setting with grass on the ground to eat and most likely a pond for a water source to a confined area with an automatic waterer of some sort and bunks to eat out of. Usually, when we wean the calves tend to walk the fence lines and often, they walk right by their new water and feed source because they do not have a clue what they are (see the first diagram below). He suggests blocking their fence walking pattern with a bunk so that it disrupts this normal behavior and actually makes them stop for a bit and check out what is in it (see second diagram). He also recommends setting the automatic waterers so that they actually run over a little bit which may help to “educate” them that this is the place they need to drink. Another thought would be to actually put a filled, open water tank in the lot that is placed perpendicular to the fence line. This will not only disrupt the fence walking behavior, but may also be more similar to what the calves are used to drinking out of.

Shawn Deering is a MU Extension Livestock Specialist.