We weaned calves this week which always makes for a busy and intensive few days. It’s something I always drag my heels on. If you know you know. It can be stressful for the animals and humans.
Weaning involves separating the cows from their calves. You may be wondering why we do this? The reason we wean is to stop the cow from producing milk. Producing milk requires a lot of energy. Instead of the cow using her energy to produce milk for her teenage calf, we want her to reserve her energy for herself and for the calf she is carrying and will deliver this coming spring. Over the years we have tried every method of weaning but the practice we settled on and that fits our farm philosophy best is fence line weaning.
Each group of calves is different in how they handle weaning. Some calves aren’t bothered at all and some do have a tough time with it. This year's group of calves have been very chill. The good thing about fence line weaning is it allows the cow and calves to be close to each other as they're only separated by a fence. They can touch noses and see each other whenever they want but the calves aren't able to nurse. We find this way of weaning to be less stressful for both the calves and the cows.
We wean at a late age (some of these calves are 8 + months old) so our calves are bigger, stronger and more independent which makes weaning easier. The moms have had enough and truthfully their mom’s milk is a bonus, not a necessity, at their age. You can see from the picture above the Moms on the left are resting close and checking in at the "playpen" where the calves are contained.
Having the calves on their own provides the chance for them to get to know us better. They are curious and adjust to us being in their space. This is an important part of building trust with the animals. It makes for a safe and calm herd of animals that enjoy our company and are a pleasure to be around.
The calves will be in their own area for about a month or so. Once we are sure the cows have dried up (stopped producing milk), the calves will rejoin the herd. Are you wondering if they go right back to their mom? It's different with each calf....we have mothers and grown daughters that hang together and graze together and we have some that pay zero attention to each other; you wouldn't even know they were related.