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Prepare Calves for Weaning with Little Stress

Tom Noffsinger shows how calves can keep gaining on weaning day by using low-stress preparation.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (Nov. 4, 2015) — When you wean your calves, do you expect them to gain as much on weaning day as they did the day before? Tom Noffsinger, veterinarian and low-stress animal-handling expert, says you should if you handle them correctly.

Stockmanship is the foundation of animal health, performance and profit potential, he told attendees of the Merck-sponsored Angus University workshops Nov. 4 at the Angus Means Business National Convention & Trade Show in Overland Park, Kan.

Stockmanship means being a caregiver, not a caretaker. Caregivers should be dedicated to making every human-cattle interaction a positive experience for both parties. Education means developing understanding between you and the cattle, and creates more confidence to recognize abnormalities and develop interventions earlier, Noffsinger explained.

“Low-stress handling is common sense, and it is a low-cost, high-yield management tool,” Noffsinger added. It allows cattlemen to detect disease sooner, reduce lameness cases, improve product quality and food safety, reduce staff turnover, save money on facility design, improve feed-intake levels, and increase safety.

He cited stockmanship expert Bud Williams, “Never put yourself in a position to fail. Safety is important.”

Safety is important for both cattlemen and cattle. Without trust between the stockman and the cattle, cattle will not show weaknesses because they will perceive the cattleman as a threat, or a predator, Noffsinger explained. “If animals don’t trust you, they won’t be honest about how they feel.”

Variation in health and performance is largely due to human impact, he added.

Noffsinger suggested weaning success starts with an extension of care for the cow-calf pair. It requires forward-planning for success. Train pairs to travel together with low-stress gathering.

Train calves for separation at processing/vaccination time. He shared an example of sorting calves into a pen at the beginning of the chute facility, and the cows at the end of it. Let the calves go through the facility once to get back to their mamas without being handled. This lets them experience the chute without developing a fear of it.

Noffsinger recommends vaccinating in a similar way after this. Keep them apart overnight, but let the calves return to their mamas after vaccination. This will train them to be separated. When weaning time comes, the calves won’t experience something completely new and will continue gaining weight. Without being stressed at weaning, calves’ immune systems function at a higher level, too.

For an example of low-stress sorting, read this article by Heather Smith Thomas in the Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA.

He illustrated the “luxuries of biology,” which progresses from life to growth, reproduction, immune function and product quality. If a calf is unduly stressed, the biological progression doesn’t happen.

Preconditioning calves sets them up for success in the feedyard, Noffsinger emphasized, comparing not vaccinating calves before sending them to the feedlot to giving a kindergartener their shots two weeks after school has started; it’s too late.

“Acclimation is the key to success,” he concluded.

Editor’s Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, which maintains the copyright. To request permission to reprint, please contact Shauna Hermel at 816-383-5270.