A Different Kind of Music

If you have never heard the sound of bawling calves, its a different tune to listen to.  Calves yelling for their moms, with the cows calling back.  It gets pretty loud! With that said, bawling calves are music to my ears!  Bascially, when we wean, all the hard work from the previous winter, spring and summer comes to a climax.  Weaning calves leads up to the big day and thats sale day (in rancher terms, pay day!)

When cattlemen talk about weaning calves, this means the calves are permanently separated from their mothers.  There are many methods to weaning calves.  I am going to share with you how we wean our calves.

Driving a group of pairs through our weaning pasture to the sorting pens. The weaning pasture is sub irrigated, and has only been grazed once during the early summer. It is very palatable grass for the calves. It is feed they are accustomed to, so they continue eating through the weaning process, when they have a high stress level.

We wean our calves in August every year.  The majority are March and April born calves.  August is early to many cattlemen, but weaning early is part of our marketing plan.  This year has been a bit of a challenge with the continuous hot, dry weather.  We rotated pastures harder than any other year to make sure the cows and calves had plenty to eat.  We weaned early last week, which is 2-3 weeks earlier than we typically wean.

My niece giving a calf an intranasal vaccine. Everyone pitches in when we work cattle!

The calves are separated from their mothers.  We use low stress handling methods and all calves go through the squeeze chute.  They are then given a round of vaccinations, dewormed for internal and external parasites, and also their weight is recorded.  We record weights so when it’s time to cull cows, we can look at weaning weights and cull the poor producing cows.  The weaning weights are also used for breed (American Angus Association) performance data on cows and also marketing bulls.

Freshly weaned calves!

We use a weaning method known as fenceline weaning.  This is the fifth year we have used this method.  The cows are on the opposite side of the fence from the calves, but the calves can’t reach their mothers.  They will pair up on the opposite side of the fence, but no contact is allowed.  My husband, the super fencer, has his fence wires stretched tight to sing a tune and also makes the wires hot.  It will throw a spark!

Bunks are placed perpendicular to the fence so they walk into them and begin eating.

We place the feed bunks perpendicular to the fenceline, so as they calves walk the fence, they run into the bunks.  We place the bunks perpendicular to the fence in 5 areas across from the cows. Highly palatable starter pellets are in the bunks to attract the calves.  Starting on feed is a new thing for the calves, and they need something tasty to get started on!

Starter pellets in a bunk. For the first 2 days, only pellets are placed in the bunk. to attract them to the bunk. After that, good quality grass hay is mixed with a small about of wet distiller grains, then we put the pellets on top of the mix. The bunks are then moved away from the fence because they know how to eat and its much easier for us to feed! After 6 days the bunks are moved together in one long bunk line.

Feeding the grass hay/wet distillers mix

Their water source is a freshwater tank on a corner that they walk past.  They begin eating and drinking fairly quickly once they are turned out.  They also have good quality grass, which they are accustomed to eating, so no calf goes hungry when being weaned.

Calves drinking at the water tank, with a set of bunks in the background.

We also put StressLic barrels along the fenceline where their dams are.  The barrels are highly fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Their dams have to walk away from the calves to get water, which is important because the calves basically begin to forget about their mothers.  We move the dams after 3-4 days.  The calves are done walking, bawling and are eating well at this point.

After three weeks or so, the steer and bull calves are sorted from the heifers and moved to a different feeding area.

A typical marketing plan for us is to market 825lb steers in December.  We keep the heifers to market as replacements the following year either as open in the spring or bred in the fall.  The bull calves are sold to local cattlemen as spring yearlings.

And that’s how we wean calves on the Anderson Ranch.  There are many methods to wean calves.  This is the method that works best for us!

One of the best things about having calves around is after work each evening I saddle up my favorite Rummy horse and ride through them!

And of course everytime the cattle across the fence see the calves get fed, they seem to think they need some of those tasty pellets and come over for a quick looksy!


About Husker Cowgirl

I am a regional sales manager for Turnkey Computer Systems feedyard accounting software and an avid Husker fan. I am passionate about agriculture and especially beef cattle. I enjoy ranching the old fashioned way - using horses. I also enjoy taking my horses to town and competing with them at local, state and national events on the weekends.
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3 Responses to A Different Kind of Music

  1. Mark says:

    This was a great read . Thanks

  2. Keely says:

    Enjoyed reading this. Your method of weaning is pretty unique but sensible. Thanks for the food for thought

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