August 08, 2016

(Dr. Dan Thomson) Hey there, folks. Welcome to DocTalk. I’m Dr. Dan Thomson, and I’m glad that you joined me today. We’re going to have a show that we’re going to discuss some of the different weaning methods for weaning calves off the cows. Whether it’s early weaning or traditional weaning times, all the different types of techniques all come into play. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you here after these first messages.

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(Dan) Hi there, folks. I’m Dr. Dan Thomson. Thanks for joining me today on DocTalk. Today, I don’t have a guest but I am a Professor here at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and I’m the Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology. And my job takes me throughout all the different aspects of the beef industry. I work with ranches, I work with stocker operators, I work with feedlots, I work a lot with the packers and then eventually, I work with some of our bigger retailers of beef products. One of the things that keeps coming up whether it’s animal welfare, or antimicrobial resistance, or issues, or sustainability is how we wean calves. One of the things you might think of, “Well, how does weaning calves have anything to do with antimicrobial resistance?” When we wean calves properly and they go on to have a change of address, so they go from the ranch to the feedlot, proper weaning decreases morbidity and mortality at the feedlot level, which then decreases the amount of antibiotics that are utilized. We don’t use metaphylaxis or mass treatment of calves that have been properly weaned and preconditioned before arriving at the feedlot. When we have a decrease in morbidity and mortality, you can see how we can assume or jump to the decrease in antimicrobial resistance issues where we can look at better animal welfare when we properly manage these cattle before they go to the feedlot. Then you can see how the sustainability of our industry as we continually try to improve the welfare, the judicious use of antimicrobials, and then can market that forward to the retailer, to the consumer so that they understand that we continually make improvements throughout the beef supply chain. Now, typical weaning occurs in beef calves when they reach 220 days or about seven months of age. We have two different types of weaning, which we had called traditional weaning or early weaning. And traditional weaning is going to occur, again, at seven months of age, bigger calves in the fall when we typically wean, when we start running out of grass. When we look at early weaning, that would be defined as calves that are weaned at five months of age or less. It’s only 9% of the cattle in the US are early weaned or even weaned before 170 days which would be even a little bit later. Early weaning versus traditional weaning, why do we do these types of things? I think it has a lot to do with your cattle, a lot to do with the amount of grass that you have, and it has to do with the cowherd type that you have. When I start to think about weaning in the fall versus weaning in the summer, it would have to do a lot with the available forage. Most of the times when we see early weaning, if you’re in a drought-stricken area, a lot of times, those cows will go ahead and wean the calves themselves just because they can’t continue to support the calves through milk production and lactation. The old adage on grass is take half and leave half and so when we look at our grass resources and we look at when we’re going to pick the timing of weaning, we need to be able to make sure that if we have taken half, it’s time to take the cattle off the pasture, it’s time to either wean the calves or move them to a new pasture. So making that determination, early weaning versus late weaning is something that’s vitally important to sustainability. When we come back, we’re going to talk about things that calves go through during weaning, things that cows through weaning, and some of the management techniques that can make it easier on both. Thanks for watching DocTalk; I’ll be back after these messages.

(Dan) Hey, folks. Welcome back to DocTalk. Dr. Dan Thomson here from Kansas State University where I serve as the Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology and enjoy getting out and spending time with you all here in the beef industry and beyond. Today, we’re talking about weaning. Weaning is probably the most stressful event in a calf’s life. And a lot of times, I think we take weaning for granted. What I mean by that is we can either manage the effects or manage the causes of bovine respiratory disease. I would say that proper weaning or proper weaning management is the single most important tool to reducing bovine respiratory disease in calves that go on to feedlots. When we talk about managing the effects or managing the causes, we can either abruptly wean calves, put bawling calves through an auction market, co-mingle them, put them on a truck and send them to a feedyard or someone has to manage the effects of mismanagement at the ranch or cow/calf level, or we can manage the causes which is look at the different types of stress, try to reduce those, and properly manage that calf for delivery to our marketing channels in the auction markets or direct marketing, and then transportation so that calf is able to actually take in those stresses that they’re going to see and not have additive stress which there’s only two reasons why calves get sick. The two reasons why calves get sick is, one, a suppressed immune system due to stress, or an overwhelming dose of a pathogen. I will tell you this, from my experience as a veterinarian, 99% of the time when calves get sick, it’s not due to an overwhelming dose of a pathogen, it’s due to some sort of stress that suppresses the immune system that allows the calf to become sick. Its kind of like when your mom would say, “Well, you’re going to catch your death of pneumonia if you don’t wear a coat or if you don’t get out of the rain.” Calves are no different. When we start to think about nutritional stress, emotional stress, environmental stress, physical stress, transportation stress, all of these things are things that we want to help control in these calves whether they’re retained ownership or something that you want to sell to somebody year after year, after year to stay in that market, it’s things that you can do. Now, when we wean calves, I’ve got written down here about five different types of stress that we see. Nutritional stress. The first stress is we’re going to take that calf from a milk diet, obviously they’ve been nibbling on some feed, to a dry matter diet or to grass, hay, corn, different type of diet than they’re used to, so that causes stress. We’ll have emotional stress or social stress where we have that maternal separation, where we’re separating the calf and the cow and the calf will be bawling and missing it’s mom. We’ll have environmental stress. When we start to think about in the fall when we wean calves, when we’re looking at rain, mud, different things that we can manage, cool nights, hot days, things to that nature that will provide stress. Physical stress or painful stress. We think about castration, dehorning, if we can do that when those calves are younger and not complicate the weaning process or add stress to the weaning process, it just makes some sense and we’ll talk a little bit more about that. Then transporting. If you’re hauling those calves from one pasture to another, how you do that, how many do you put on the trailer, how far are you going to haul those calves, how long will they be deprived of feed and water while they’re in transport if it’s a long haul? It’s things that we have to plan for, things that we can plan for, and I’m excited about that in the next couple of sections here on this show. Stay tuned after these messages. We’re going to come back and talk more about weaning calves and some of the techniques that you can employ.

(Dan) Hey, folks. Welcome back to DocTalk. Dr. Dan Thomson here. And we’re talking about weaning calves and proper management. A lot of times as a feedlot veterinarian or as a cow/calf veterinarian, I’ve seen both sides of the fence, pardon the pun. But when we start to think about properly managing the calves and we think about animal welfare, I think about scour prevention and environment for the baby calves, I think about the weaning component of calves and maternal separation, and then I think about cattle in confined operations being able to express normal behavior and be able to find shade and environmental stress issues. So this weaning component is probably one of the most important areas in the beef production supply chain when it comes to animal well-being. We’re going to talk about weaning cattle, weaning calves off cows. You start to think about this and we can wean calves in the pasture or we can wean calves in the dry lot. The old traditional dry lot weaning is that we go and we gather the animals in the fall and we’re going to preg-check and we’re going to process calves. The calves will go into one pen and the cows will go back out on the pasture. We’ll load the calves up and take them to a lot and we’ll wean them and that’s a traditional dry lot weaning. However, there are some methods of when you can wean the calves off of the – wean the calves in the pasture rather than wean them in the dry lot where you actually leave the calves in the environment that they are used to and not put them into a dry lot situation, leave them on the pasture. You have to make sure that you have ample forage for those calves to continue to graze but you can actually leave the calves where they’re comfortable or used to being around in that environment and move the cows to another place where the calves can’t hear the cows bawl back to them so that’s one way. Another one is what we call soft weaning. The soft weaning is when we actually will leave the calves in the pasture that they were in with the cows and then move the cows into a pasture adjacent where they can run in the fence side by side, where they can have nose contact, they can have sound contact, they can smell each other but the calves aren’t able to co-mingle with the cows. They will bawl but it is a softer bawl and those calves will gradually make fewer visits to the fence line to visit their mum and it’s kind of a soft wean. When you look at some of the research, we’ve seen research that has showed a 23 to 28-pound advantage in this soft wean system versus the traditional abrupt weaning into a dry lot type situation so there can be can be some increase in pounds. Again, you’ve got to make sure you have ample space for those calves to graze and forage. The two-step method of weaning is first we’re going to leave the calves in the pasture with the cows. We’re going to take away the nursing response by putting a clip in their nose with a can or a paddle as seen here in this picture where they can’t nurse. After a while, when the calves are able to forage and not nurse, we’ll then leave the calves in the pasture and move the cows to another pasture. This is a two-step method where first, we take away the nursing and then we’ll provide the maternal separation by weaning those calves. When we come back, we’ll talk a little bit about what we do once we get those calves weaned, bring them into the dry lot and how we can feed them. Thanks for watching DocTalk, more after these messages.

(Dan) Hey folks, Dr. Dan here. We’re talking about weaning calves here on DocTalk this morning. I appreciate you all joining me thanks to everybody that watches the show. We have a lot of fun doing this and we especially are appreciative of not only the people that watch the show but our sponsors of the show as well. When we take calves into a dry lot situation, whether they’ve been on pasture, they’re eventually going to run out of grass if you’re up in the north and we’re going to take those calves into a dry lot. When the calves come into a dry lot and if you’re going to do a traditional wean, the first thing I try to do is two things, one, I want to have copious amounts of hay in the bunk. I want to fluff it up where the calves can see it, they’ll go to the bunk, they’ll consume some hay and the other thing is I want to help the calves find the water supply. Calves will be walking – if they haven’t been weaned or soft weaned, they will walk and bawl in that pen and so what I’ll do is the calves find water with three senses, sight, smell and hearing. What I’ll do is I will pop the plug out of the bottom of the water tank if it’s dry and I will make a little bit of a mud puddle out in front so if the calves see water on the ground, then they’ll come over and they can smell it. The other thing is if you have a pitcock that you can turn on and that sprays water in there, it will make the noise of running water and the calves will hear it. They can also use their smell when you bubble up that water with the pitcock but those are just some things I’ll do to help calves find the water tanks. If it’s hot, I will take a silver water tank, even though I may have an automatic waterer, I will take a bigger round water tank and put in the pen especially that first week just to help calves stay hydrated and find that water supply. Now, after the calves – somebody will say, “Well, how long do I leave hay?” Then hay is not something easy to feed because if you don’t have a hay processor, we’re doing it by hand. So when I think about putting out hay, I’m going to put out good grass hay for these calves to consume until they’re eating it. Once they start to consume and they’re eating it, that’s when I’ll switch over to more of a milled ration. When we go to a milled ration or a totally mixed ration, some of the things I think about are crude protein. I want to have a good source of natural crude protein good source of natural crude protein, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, some bypass protein that’s going to do the calf some good. Distillers is a great source of natural protein. I want to limit the amount of non-protein nitrogen. Our general rule is no more than 1% of the diet dry matter is urea. So we think about that on these high-risk calves. Lastly, how much concentrate? I generally start the calves out at 50% to 60% concentrate, and when I start to then bump them up, but I will leave those calves on that 50% to 60% concentrate ration until the health risk or until those calves are consuming it adequately. We want cattle to be eating a percent and a half of their body weight by a week and a half on feed. When we think about starting these calves, 14% crude protein, natural protein source, 50% to 60% grain, that means 50% to 40% roughage or hay in that total mixed ration along with the proper vitamins and minerals. People will ask the question, “What about silage?” Starting calves on some of these wetter distillers and silage products work really, really well. You may have a depressed intake right off the bat on silage, but the research at Ohio State shows that at 28 days post-weaning, the calves that were weaned on silage-based roughage diets versus non-silage-based roughage diets have the exact same performance, and so it really is a moot point to getting these calves started. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show today. It’s been one that is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart both from the standpoint of making sure that we increase the pounds of production for you, the producer, the cow/calf producer, but also providing the cattle feeder with an animal that’s been managed appropriately to resist the bacterial and viral pathogens that they’re exposed to when they get to the feedlot. Thanks for watching DocTalk today. Remember, always work with your local veterinarian. They’ll have a lot of tips on preconditioning in your area. And if you want to know more about what we do here at DocTalk, you can find us on the web at Thanks for watching our show. I enjoy spending time with you here on DocTalk. I’m Dr. Dan Thomson, and I’ll see you down the road.

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