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Topic-icon Do I need to wean off calves?

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1 week 3 days ago #546117 by EzPz123

Hi there.
I have 3 hiefers that had their first calves late last year. The calves are thriving and putting on so much weight and are eating grass but still sucking off their mum.
I've had a bull run with the cows over xmas.
My question - do I have to wean off the calves? Or can I leave them with the cows right through pregnancy? And even when the new calve is born?

I know standard practice is to wean them off, but I have so much grass and hay (i'm understocked), it's easier having them all in one herd, and I recently saw a country calender episode where the farmer left his calves on the mum for 18 months (the cow was feeding the newborn and the year old calf at the same time).

Curious to hear what people think of this?

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1 week 3 days ago #546118 by Ruth

As you have the grass, leave them on for the time being: they're not very old yet. Weaning age is usually from six months onwards. Sue weans her lovely MG calves at nine months and I did the same with my replacement heifers last year and it worked really well.
I like to give my cows some recovery time between lactations and research projects have shown that the subsequent season's production is enhanced if a cow has a minimum six week break.
I think you might buy some unexpected difficulties if you don't wean them at some stage. Leave it as late as you can and they won't be taking much from their mothers anyway but you do want to ensure that you don't have some old calves who will take all the milk a newborn needs, since some just will. If you don't firmly wean them, they may be the animals who become adult sucklers, which is a real problem in a mixed-age herd.

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1 week 3 days ago #546120 by Jaybee

Definitely wean them, the cow needs to be dry for at least 6 weeks or else she won't produce milk properly next lactation.

There's no hurry if the cows are calving late next spring, but you need to think about how you're going to do it. If possible, a really good way is to shift the calves away to another farm - out of sight is out of mind. If that's not possible you'll need a really secure fenceline to keep them separated, and you can expect them to run around and moo loudly for a week or so. It's better to wean while the ground is dry otherwise they'll make a big mess of your paddocks with all the running up and down.

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1 week 3 days ago #546121 by Ruth

I disagree. Sending them a long way away only works if it's so far they can't hear each other at all but it's incredibly stressful.
The kindest way is to do it on either side of a good fence, so they can continue to see and touch each other but never get through, nor reach far enough to suckle. But if done at around nine months, and only three of them, the noise and stress shouldn't be terribly high.

The muddy mess usually happens as a track along the closest fenceline and whichever corner they can gather in where they think they're closest too.

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1 week 3 days ago #546122 by max2

I prefer weaning side by side with a well-battened fence in between for weaning calves off mum. Battened because it's so easy for someone to pop their head through otherwise to empty the cow's quarters on that side.

But yes, I would take them off a couple of months before Mum is due. They will dry her out completely and little will be left for the newborn (thinking of the necessary colostrum too). I have also found that generally speaking, Mum is quite happy with the arrangement too, and may only call out for 24 hours instead of the 3 days/nights.

Last Edit: 1 week 3 days ago by max2.

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1 week 3 days ago #546124 by LongRidge

I agree with Ruth. We once weanedd the calves by moving them to a leased block 3 kilometers away. They were home next morning :-(. The first weaner heifers that we bought all got out of a cow-proof paddock and it took ages to find them. Fortunately our road is very quiet, and it gave the real farmer a laugh. I now wean our animals over the fence in a paddock that I can see if any have escaped.
How old are the mothers now? We don't mate heifers until they are 26 months old. If they are mated as yearlings the pregnancy and lactation can take so much out of them that it reduces the conception in following years.
How long was the bull in with the cows, and how soon after the cows calved? Our cows (pure Herefords) take about 6 weeks to get pregnant after calving, because of our relatively poor pasture species and poor soil fertility. Even then the bull does not always make a pregnancy when the cows should have been fertile.
Heifer calves older than about 5 months can get pregnant, even to their father, and especially if they have some dairy breed in them. It can be very difficult to get a calf out of a small pelvis.

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1 week 2 days ago #546136 by Cigar

We only have just over a hectare of land, so we wean our calves side by side as others have suggested. Even two hot tapes about 1m apart has been enough to keep them separated, but usually we use a post and rail fence with a hot tape 0.5-1m on the calf side. Once we weaned the calves onto a truck going to Northland, they didn't come back ;)

Last Edit: 1 week 2 days ago by Cigar.

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1 week 2 days ago #546138 by Sue

Yes, as others have said, wean them alongside each other preferably with an electric wire somewhere on the fence. We weaned ours yesterday and had quite a peaceful night despite the calves in a paddock only about 50 metres from our bedroom window (double glazing helps a bit!)

The further apart the cows and calves, the louder they moo! Our bull calves and their mothers would be about nearly 1km from the house- and they are alngside each other- but we can still hear them moo- when they do!

The oldest are 9 months old- born July 2018 and the youngest was born in October, so 7 months old and around 270 kgs.

If they have plenty of feed in front of them they shouldn't grizzle too much. The cows will have 3 months to get back in shape before the next calf, and yes they are all back in calf, even the ones weaning their first calf at 2 1/2 years old and the bull came out on 31st December. The cows with heifer calves were split off from the cows with bull calves back at Christmas time to prevent any teenage pregnacies!
Some of the bull calves are now well over 400kgs, so time to leave Mum!

I did email the guy who was on Country Calendar who didn't wean one calf off before the next was born. I too was concerned that if the yearling was still drinking the new calf wouldn't get any or enough colostrum. He didn't think there was a problem- as that is what would normally happen in the wild- but to my mind I still feel the cow-and her udder- needs time to recover between calves!

Labrador lover for yonks, breeder of pedigree Murray Grey cattle for almost as long, and passionate poultry person for more years than I care to count.
Last Edit: 1 week 2 days ago by Sue.

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1 week 1 day ago #546142 by EzPz123

Hi everyone.
Thanks so much for these replies, very useful and educational.
I checked the calender. The calves were born late October, so that makes them 5.5-6 months old. We ran another bull with the cows over xmas/new years for 6 weeks. So all going well the next lot will be born in sept/oct.
So maybe I can hold the 2018 calves on mum until say July? Would this be alright?

And a few follow up questions:
1) Can I ever return these to the main herd? I.e, if they've been off mum for 6 weeks and I put them back in the same paddock, would they start drinking again? If so, how long should I wait before they won't go back to the teat?

Another thought, humans don't always wean off their babies when a new one arrives. In fact I know someone that is breastfeeding 3 of her kids - a newborn, an 1 year old, and a 2.5 year old. Full on I know. But she values breast milk over formula and it seems to be working fine.
So obviously the body can adapt. Sue - would you be able to share me the Country Calender guy's details? I'd love to pick his brain over this.
Maybe for the first 2 calves no weaning is needed. Maybe it's only calf 3, 4, 5 etc that need a break?

I don't know, I just like questioning things, and given how understocked I am, and how well my calves are doing with mum, I'm just curious to look at all options. Plus I'm one of those guys who likes to go against the grain I guess :P

I know the consensus is clear - give the cow at least 6 weeks (maybe longer) so recharge for the new calf, and also to ensure that the older calf isn't sucking mum dry when the new calf arrives. But where is this logic coming from? Does anyone have experience doing this? Maybe the second calf struggled? Or worst died?
I'd love to hear your experiences?

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1 week 1 day ago #546143 by Ruth

I have experience of not-properly-weaned adult animals: they had to go to the works, no matter how much I liked the look of them because it wasn't only their own mothers they sucked dry! You can't do it and run a herd that will work properly.

You really don't want to have ill-grown babies because some fat-arsed adult is taking the milk from your new mums. It's nuts. Women breast feeding several children are rational, intelligent, communicative individuals who have arms and improved methods of communicating "no" to their older children when their milk supply needs to be prioritised for the newborn. Cows can't do that. It doesn't matter how many times they try to kick another animal off their teats, the other adult will find ways to sneak in and take the milk they don't need, usually as the new calf is suckling and the cow can't differentiate and the adult suckler can suck milk way faster than a baby. Really, don't do it. Do something else to "go against the grain". Get an interesting hobby. Explore gender fluidity. Learn to knit.

Wean them for the week it takes for them to stop mooing at each other, then gradually, if you have the space, let them graze further from each other. Don't put them back together until some weeks after calving because the yearlings will potentially play hard with the calves.

In my herd the yearlings go back with their mothers at 15 months because that's the next mating period and they all get pregnant at the same time (if the yearlings make mating weight by then). Occasionally, where a 2yo mother had failed to get in calf, her calf may end up with her again from about two months after weaning and I've not had any problems with it if mother is properly dry. They like each other and hang around together a lot.

There are lots of great knitting videos on the internet.

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1 week 1 day ago #546144 by EzPz123

Haha perfect :)
This was the type of answer I was looking for! Thank you :)

I used the wrong term with 'against the grain'. I guess I'm just an curious person and like questioning the norms. If I hadn't done this early in my LSB years, I would be drenching, putting down urea, vaccinating, ordering palm kernal, and totally over stocked!
So now whenever I get a conventional farmer telling me 'I should be doing XYZ', I like to stop and look at the alternatives. just in case there is a better way. Sometimes there is, and sometimes there isn't. But either way at least I learn a thing or two and can make an informed decision :P

I guess seeing that show on CC and then seeing my friend with the multiple babies made me think 'hmmm, I wonder if this works'.

So I appreciate your brutal honesty and sharing your wisdom.

Given all this, my plan will be to wean the calves in June. And then when I get another bull in around xmas time, then they can all go back into one mob. Or I simply sell them as yearlings. But I'm understocked so I'll probably fatten them up for the works or freezer.

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1 week 1 day ago #546145 by Ruth

I entirely understand. If I'd listened to all the "proper farmers" who decided to endow me with their great wisdom, I'd have been spraying out my valuable Kikuyu grass for the last 20 years and constantly reseeding my paddocks while continuing to use huge amounts of glyphosate. I'm glad I went steadfastly against that grain. Also, I'd have bred enormous cattle I'd never have been able to feed here.

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1 week 1 day ago #546146 by LongRidge

You should always keep asking yourself "Why is it done this way?". There is a huge amount of information that is not known yet, and even when it is "known" there will be variations that will be needed. And because "it has always been done that way" does not mean that it is the best way. I have access to waste bread for stock food, and have been told that I can rapidly change the cow, sheep, and goat diet from hay to bread. But the guy who told me that has been very lucky that his stock did not get keto-acidosis. He was also lucky that they each all ate about the same amount of the bread. My bull and steer do not like bread, but they do think that pumpkins are pretty good. One cow loves bread and after a couple of weeks has taught the other cows that it is food, but the cows don't like pumpkins. If I had believed what I was told I would have had some cattle starving, and others dying of acidosis :-)
The babies need to stay away from their mums for at least 12 weeks and preferably longer. When we started farming we separated the laMBS FROM THE EWES FOR 4 WEEKS.... and most of the ewes came back into milk. As stated it is rather risky to not wean, but when weaning remember to watch the mums that they do not get mastitis.
Your friend who is suckling 3 children has access to enough food of the correct quality to be able to make enough milk, and can limit each of the babies to the correct amount. Obviously, her children don't bite :-).

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1 week 1 day ago #546155 by Hawkspur

Regarding breastfeeding and weaning, and reasoning with kids, when my sister-in-law was weaning her 18 month old, she tried telling the kid that she wasn't making enough milk. The kid told her to eat more grass.

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1 week 1 day ago #546156 by Ruth


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