Weaning time can be stressful for cow, calf and cowboy. Traditionally, weaning calves meant to separate the cows and calves by distance. For example the herd was brought into a corral where calves would be separated from the cows. The cows would then be sent out to pasture and leave the calves in a lot or ship the calves off to a pasture elsewhere. The traditional process was stressful due to the handling and separation of calves from momma.
During our first year of weaning calves we tried a technique called fence line weaning. Where we physically separated the cow and calves but placed them along a fence to remain near each other. The cow and calf could still see and touch each other but the fence made nursing impossible.
We were happy with the low stress results of fence line weaning our 2013 born calves last spring. The drawback to this system, you end up with two herds to move. In the photo above we simply moved both herds along the fence line toward the camera position. We kept the cows and calves in the two herds for about 40 days before combining them back into a single herd. When calves returned to their mothers, a couple of calves tried to nurse but were quickly kicked away by the cow. When the cows had their 2014 calves and the new calves started nursing, we had one cow that allowed her 2013 fence line weaned yearling to start nursing her again. This was unacceptable as the new calf would not be getting enough milk and nutrition. At that point we installed a weaning ring into the nose of the yearling to prevent it from stealing milk from its younger sibling.
As an alternative, this year we are trying weaning rings in all 2014 calves. This did force us to bring the calves into our coral and run them through the catch gate to insert the rings. It is a fairly easy process and the calves did not seem to annoyed. Here is a 20 second video of Jacob inserting a weaning ring:
The result is a single herd with some temporarily frustrated calves that can no longer figure out how to nurse. The rings in their nose prevent normal sucking. Both the fence line and nose ring methods are fairly low stress on cows, calves and cowboy. The weaning ring requires a little more labor up front but will save us time and hassle by allowing us to keep moving just one herd rather than two. Plus we can leave the rings in long enough to make sure no new calves are having their milk stolen by their older sibling.