Weaning on the Rock Farm

A few weeks ago we made the decision that we would keep the calves over winter, but I knew that this would be a significant increase on our stocking last year. I have been keeping a close eye on the cows, and noticed a couple of the cows start to show their hip bones. The best way to keep the cows in good condition for the rest of winter is to wean their calves. This should see the cows maintain condition for calving in late August. With a wetter than average winter forecast hopefully yielding reasonable pasture growth, we should be able to keep the calves until spring. To be sure, we organised a load of hay, bringing our stored total to around 15 tonnes of fodder. I just hope the cattle get to eat it before the mice!

We brought the cattle into the yards, and quietly drafted them into two mobs. We released the mothers into the adjoining paddock, where they seemed to blissfully shrug off the burden of their calves and start feeding. So I moved them an hour later to a nice fresh paddock over the hill, and thought the worst of the weaning process was behind me. Oh how wrong I was.

Weaning can be a stressful time for young calves and their mothers. So I left with the calves our four maiden heifers and Miss-Steak, one of our original herd who didn’t calve this spring. The initial separation seemed to go well. The calves, secured in the yards followed the lead of the older cattle and started enthusiastically feeding from our round bale feeder.

Later that evening as udders filled, the cows remembered their obligation to the calves and came back to the yards…. through the fences that separated them. Jo took the initiative and opened the gates to let the rest of the mob through. We left them overnight, bellowing to each other through the panels of the yards.

Over the next week, both mums and bubs started getting the hang of the new routine. I kept the cows in paddocks where they had access to the yards when they wanted to drop in and check on the calves. Most of the time they were happy to graze, but would visit their little ones late in the day. The calves seemed more than happy with the company of their peers

After a couple of weeks, I was able to move the cows away into a new paddock, and this time they didn’t push through fences to get back to their calves. I will keep the calves separated for a few more weeks before running them together again for simplicity. It didn’t take the calves long to associate the sound of the tractor starting up with the delivery of fresh hay.

The not-so-little-photographer captured this gorgeous image of one of the calves lifting her head from the water trough. Most mornings I have been breaking the ice on the old bathtub trough so the claves can have an early morning drink… it has been bitterly cold.

It has been a busy few weeks, and juggling work, kids and the cattle. I have had a few late nights down at the yards until well into the night – especially when the float valve controlling the water supply failed due to a rusted split pin. My evening excursions reminded me that I need to recruit some extra help to give me a bit of redundancy if I can’t get around as easily, or if I am out of town. The not-so-little Helper jumped at the chance to drive the tractor, and he is learning the basics of moving it around (with the intention of building jumps for his mountain bike). Jo came down to the shed armed with a laminated instruction sheet on starting the tractor I made up last year. Following the instructions, she too was able to get the tractor in the right place with a bale of hay for the appreciative mouths.

In all, it has been a productive and busy time on the Rock Farm, and despite all the extra work juggling, I wouldn’t change a thing 🙂

Further information on weaning can be found here: https://www.mla.com.au/research-and-development/Animal-health-welfare-and-biosecurity/Husbandry/Weaning

I also found this research particularly interesting and will investigate doing something similar next time: http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/low-stress-weaning-benefits-on-several-levels/

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