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5 tips for weaning and receiving calves

June 6, 2024
5 tips for weaning and receiving calves

The weaning and receiving period can be a stressful time for both calves and producers. Having a plan beforehand is crucial to ensuring things go smoothly. Here are some tips to get off to a great start.

1. Prepare your facilities

Making sure that your facilities are in good shape for the arrival of weaned calves can help smooth the transition from pasture. Check waterers to confirm that they are working properly, and offer feed in locations that are easy for calves to find. Portable feed troughs and low-moisture tubs can be placed along the fence line to help animals find feed quickly. Developing and increasing dry matter intake is key to maintaining health.

If weaning into larger dry lots, consider splitting lots with panels. This will minimize the need to commingle animals. The higher stocking density will help reduce pacing and keep pens moist, which will minimize dust. Dust can contribute to pneumonia, so keeping dust levels down is crucial. Additionally, ensure that the fencing is secure to prevent escapes and that there are adequate shelters or windbreaks to protect calves from harsh weather conditions.

2. Minimize stress

Stress is known to have negative impacts on health and performance. While stress can’t be completely eliminated, there are ways to minimize it through management.

One way is to vaccinate, deworm, dehorn and castrate before weaning. These procedures can be stressful, and performing them well in advance of weaning allows calves to recover fully before the additional stress of separation from their mothers.

Also, commingle new cattle as little as possible. This reduces the spread of disease as well as the stress from determining pecking order. Low-stress handling techniques, such as using calm and quiet methods when moving and working with cattle, can also help reduce stress.

3. Familiarize calves with feed

Getting newly received cattle on feed quickly is essential to maintaining their health. Calves are used to a diet of milk and forage while on pasture, so switching to the concentrated ration offered in the weaning pens can be difficult, involving differences in texture and nutrient digestibility.

Slowly transitioning calves to a concentrated diet while they are still alongside their mothers can help with the transition, minimizing digestive upsets associated with the higher starch concentration in weaning feeds. Providing high-quality forage in the weaning pen is helpful as well. Also, if low-moisture tubs are used on pasture, offering a stress tub in the weaning pen can help the calves transition more quickly.

4. Provide plentiful, fresh water

Water is one of the most overlooked nutrients. Fresh, clean water is essential for getting calves on feed as well as maintaining their health.

Some calves may never have used a water trough before. One trick that can help them adjust is to let the water continually run over for a brief period, helping the calves find it. Ensure that water sources are clean and accessible, as dirty or difficult-to-reach water can discourage calves from drinking. Providing multiple water sources also helps to ensure all calves have access to water, especially in larger groups. In colder weather, check that water troughs are kept ice-free, and in hot weather, provide additional shade to encourage water consumption.

Even with these plans in place, be sure to monitor water intake closely during the first few days after weaning, as dehydration can quickly lead to health issues.

5. Establish gut health

Gut health is critical to prevent calf health problems. Scours in calves are common during weaning and are a gut health issue. By fostering a healthy microbial population in the gut, Bio-Mos® 2 offers a natural approach to improving animal growth performance and health, along with producer profitability, during this transition.

Monitoring calves for signs of digestive upset, such as diarrhea or reduced feed intake, can help identify issues early and allow for prompt intervention. Bio-Mos 2 can quickly and easily address calf scours by being added to a ration through various current supplementation methods, including loose minerals, pellets, tubs/blocks, liquid supplements or carrier packs.  

Preparing facilities, minimizing stress, familiarizing calves with feed, providing fresh water, and focusing on gut health are all key steps in smooth and successful weaning and receiving. Producers who have a solid transition plan in place can expect healthier, more productive animals in the long run.

About the author: 

Dr. Shelby Roberts profile image

Dr. Shelby Roberts is a ruminant research scientist at Alltech in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Dr. Roberts' passion for the beef industry started at an early age while growing up on a commercial cow-calf operation in West Texas. She earned a bachelor's degree in animal science at West Texas A&M University, a master's degree in ruminant nutrition from Oklahoma State University and a Ph.D. in agriculture with an emphasis in ruminant health and immunology from West Texas A&M University.

With experience in ruminant nutrition and ruminant health, Dr. Roberts interests focus on applied beef management practices that aim at improving animal health through nutrition. 

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