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Ranchers should consider low-stress weaning strategies

There are many low-stress options that ranchers can choose to utilize in their cattle operation.

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By choosing low-stress weaning methods, calves are less likely to lose weight from stress and will be better equipped to fight respiratory illnesses. Nose flaps are a solid option for producers to utilize in their operation during weaning season. Whitney Klasna contributed photo

In terms of weaning, cattle ranchers have a plethora of low-stress methods and options that they can utilize on their cattle operation.

When it comes to the separation of the calf from the cow, less abrupt methods help the stress level of both parties. Fence line weaning is an option that allows the calves and cows to run next to one another and communicate with each other, despite not being in the same pasture. By being next to one another instead of a more abrupt approach, the calves will be much quieter and more content than if they were to be separated further from their mothers, ultimately helping with their stress levels and reducing the likelihood of illness and weight loss.

“Having that vocal interaction and visual interaction between each other would be a low stress weaning situation, helping both the cow and the calf,” said Zachary Carlson, North Dakota State University Extension beef cattle specialist.

Another weaning option that may help the process go smoothly are nose flaps. Nose flaps are placed inside the calves’ nostrils and act as a barrier between calves and their mothers' udders. The flaps make the calves unable to nurse. By using this weaning technology, calves are able to stay with their mothers for a longer period of time and get used to not receiving their milk. Then when the calves are separated from the cows, the stress impact will be much lower since the change of diet will not be as drastic.

“I think the nose flaps are very effective,” said Eric Mousel, Extension cow-calf educator for the University of Minnesota and associate extension professor. “They give the chance to change the calf’s diet without the stress of being away from mom.”

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In addition, nose flaps give the chance for the cow to dry off gradually, instead of all at once, which can be extremely painful in some cases, according to Mousel.

Ranchers should keep a close eye on their calves after they are separated during the weaning process, as calves are at a high risk of illness. Calves are extremely prone to respiratory illnesses and diseases during this stressful time.

Carlson advises ranchers monitor their calves closely during the early phase of the separation period. He also encourages producers to work with their veterinarian and develop and follow a vaccination plan that works best for their herd and operation’s needs.

While respiratory issues are always a concern during the weaning process, they are even more so this year due to the region’s drought conditions and dry soil, causing much more dust than a typical year.

“In some places we have already seen a lot of dust pneumonia, ” Mousel said. “You just really have to closely monitor.”

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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