Stress and weaning
Weaning can engender stress amongst hinds and calves, especially where poor weaning practices are employed.
Effects of weaning stress
In weaners, the effect of stress related to poor weaning practice include-
- injuries (e.g. fence impacts and foot damage);
- excessive fence pacing;severe growth checks for 2-4 weeks after weaning; and
- increased susceptibility to parasites and pathogens.
The stressed weaners will cause the following types of property damage:
- tracking, fence damage and soil compaction (from excessive fence pacing); and
- trampled and wasted pasture.
Although not generally as stressed as their offspring, in severe circumstances hinds can also exhibit or suffer from the negative effects of bad weaning practice, including-
- reduced reproductive productivity (e.g. later conceptions); and
- physical injuries during yarding.
Minimising weaning stress
It is important to find a weaning system that works well for your farm and management style. Good weaning practices designed to reduce the stress of calves (and hinds) are as follows:
Where possible, pre-condition hinds and calves to the intended post-weaing grazing management system (e.g. rotational grazing, strip grazing, crop feeding) or yarding system before the date of weaning.
- Minimise treatment of calves at time of weaning if they are potentially painful or stressful (e.g. ear tagging, vaccination). It is usually better to perform these treatments well before or after weaning.
- Anthelmintic treatment may be necessary at the time of weaning to ensure against parasite problems over the next few weeks.
- Following hind/calf separation, it is generally considered beneficial to return calves to the paddock they were mustered from and to send hinds to a different paddock some distance from the calves. (Some farmers prefer running hinds and calves in neighbouring paddocks to “soften” the weaning process).
- Some systems utilise a period of calf retention indoors on hard feed for periods of 1-2 weeks. This requires considerable pre-weaning conditioning to the feed offered. Farmers using this system comment on the overall tameness of the calves following a return to pasture.
- Avoid weaning calves during bad weather. Some flexibility around actual weaning dates is required.
- “Soft” weaning approaches include introducing tame or dry hinds to newly weaned calves to act as a maternal surrogate.
- Avoid excessive use of dogs and other unfamiliar disturbances during the first few weeks of weaning.
- Plan for and maintain a high plane of nutrition for weaners to take their minds off mum’s milk. Don’t let their paddock get “stale”: a fresh bite keeps their minds off mum’s milk.
- Establish a regular routine (e.g. paddock rotation, yarding for health management) early on.
- Remove sick or highly stressed individuals from the weaner mob as soon as possible. Such individuals can cause considerable disruption to the weaner herd.
- If herd size justifies such an approach, consider establishing separate weaner mobs based on uniformity of animal size within each group. This reduces undesirable social impacts, particularly on the smaller individuals.
- For mixed genotype herds (e.g. red vs. wapiti), it is desirable to establish separate weaner mobs based on breed type.
- Be patient when moving young stock from paddock to paddock, or into the yards. Remember that they are generally not familiar with gateways and raceways. Give them time and space to find their way through open gateways and down the raceway.