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Environment, nutrition and separation stress weaning calves

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By Levi Berg

Over the last few months, I have gotten a few questions from beef producers about weaning calves. Most of the problems such as poor health and poor growth of calves is caused by stress. During weaning, calves experience four types of stress: physical, environmental, nutritional and social. All of these stresses can be minimized with proper management.

First off, physical stress. Physical stress can be caused from standing long periods in working facilities, being moved, mishandling, castration and dehorning. You can alleviate most of these physical stresses by working calves quickly and calmly; castrate and vaccinate at birth and dehorn earlier in life.

Environmental stress can be caused by the climate but also by man. The main environmental stress comes when calves are moved to a dry lot from a clean pasture. In the dry lot, the calves are experiencing a different environment than pastures where they were raised. In many cases, weaning the calves into a separate clean pasture instead of a dry lot could be more beneficial to the calf. The dusty area of a dry lot can cause respiratory problems and decrease weight gain. As for rain, ice, snow and wind, that is out of your control, but try to plan accordingly with the weather when you are weaning calves.

Social stress is caused by removing the calf from its mother. Even though the separation of calf from mother is essential, there are ways to ease the calves into weaning. Try separating the calves and cows by a good fence. The calves and mother can still touch noses, and this will keep the calves calmer.

Nutritional stress happens when calves are transitioned from a milk and pasture diet to a stored forage and grain diet. You should have high-quality pasture available to calves during weaning time in the spring and the fall. It is recommended to turn calves into the pasture when grasses are 8- to 12-inches tall and letting them graze until grasses are 3- to 4-inches tall.

There are many ways to reduce stress on your calves, so take your time to look at your management techniques. Keep in mind, pasture weaning is extremely effective in reducing calf stress as compared to a dry lot weaning program. Try it and see how you like it.

Just remember, anything new to that calf will add stress, and reducing stress can be the difference between a great paycheck and a poor paycheck.

Weed Control Recommendations 2019

The Henry County Extension Office has just received a limited number of the 2019 Weed Control Recommendations for Kentucky Grain Crops publications. This publication discusses herbicide use and other best management practices for controlling weeds in corn, grain sorghum, soybeans and small grains. If you would like a copy, please contact the Henry County Extension office at (502) 845-2811. Supply is limited, so don’t wait.

Information for this article was obtained from Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, UK Beef Cattle Specialist.