How to Wean a Calf with Little Stress

Minimize stress when you are weaning a calf.
Minimize stress when you are weaning a calf. (Image: Images)

Selling that healthy well-adjusted calf is the name of the game for cow/calf producers. Weaning is best done at home with as little stress for the calf as possible.

Things You'll Need

  • Small pasture with water availability
  • Calf feed with molasses
  • Time and patience
  • Electric fencing

Develop a small pasture to use for weaning and other separation needs. Install electric fence around the inside of the perimeter to keep calves from suckling through the fence.

For two days separate your calf and its mother from the herd. Always include one other babysitter cow or heifer in the mix. Begin to feed small amounts of the calf feed in the feed bunk. The calf may not have any interest at all, but at least will see what its mother does when feed is in the bunk. It will also learn where the water is in the new area.

On the third day, separate the cow and calf. Leave the babysitter cow with the calf. Put feed out for the babysitter cow. The calf may or may not try any. Try to do this when you don't have to rise and shine early in the morning the next day -- your first night will be noisy! No one will be happy.

By the fourth day, the calf is getting hungry. He's probably still hanging around the fence, and the mother cow may be also. Put some feed as close to him as you can without spooking him. He may try a bit today. Continue this routine until the calf is eating well from the feed bunk.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be sure to look for calf starter, which has a higher molasses content to interest them better.
  • Keep salt and minerals available as free choice.
  • Keep fresh water available in a tank that is low enough for calves to drink from easily.
  • Keep a watch on dogs that might spook the calf or calves that you are weaning.
  • The babysitter cow really helps to calm the baby losing contact with its mother.
  • Do not, for any reason, let the calf go back in the pasture with the cow -- even after it's been weaned for weeks. If you do, you will have to start all over, which is stressful for the cow, the calf and you! Now's the time to sell your calf or, if you're planning to keep it, let it mature in a separate pasture until the cow has had another calf.

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