A Youthful Voice...The Advocate Youth Page Schyler Angell

Associate Editor,
Advocate Youth Page

It sure doesn’t feel like fall time with temperatures in the high 90s the past few weeks, but fall is almost here. Fall sports are in full swing so I have been spending my Saturdays at cross country meets. My step sister is also playing soccer every Saturday so we are keeping our parents quite busy!

This is also the time of year, when many cattle producers wean their spring calves. Calves are usually weaned when they are seven to eight months old. Sometimes calves need to be weaned early in case of drought or poor condition of the cows. Some cattle producers even check the almanac and wean by the sign of the moon, but my family weans when we have a little extra help. That meant we weaned our calves on a Sunday this year.

We begin the weaning process by training our cows and calves to follow a bucket and truck by feeding them cubes for several days. Before we start weaning day, we gather all three of our “cattle” dogs and lock them in the garage. Obviously, they need a little more training. Our cows and calves are on pasture across the road from our corral, so we have to set up a road crossing while weaning. It’s not too common for a car to drive down our little gravel road, which is fortunate because we string up poly wire from the pasture across the road to the corral area. The cows and calves respect the wire and run across the road to follow the truck with cubes on the back. My job is to get behind the main group and bring up any cows and calves that leave the group. Even with lots of help, things rarely go perfect on the farm! This year we had two little calves that did not want to cross the gravel road so we had to try again on a different day.

Next we sorted the calves from the cows in a sorting alley. After finishing sorting, we decided to haul our calves to another farm with a barn and more shade trees. Normally we keep the cows and calves on the same farm so they can see and hear each other to reduce stress, but with temperatures in the high 90s, the calves needed a nicer place to lie down out of the hot sun.

After the calves are settled in, we introduce them to feed bunks. We also put a little loose hay in the bunks with their feed. The curious calves figure out where to find their feed pretty quickly.

Some producers like to give pre-weaning shots so the calves can build up some immunity prior to weaning. You may have read numerous articles about different weaning strategies, every farm has their unique way of doing things. On our farm, we do not give pre-weaning shots, instead the calves will receive their first round very shortly after weaning. This year that happened the next day after the calves were sorted and hauled. My mom once again had some extra help after asking her new son-in-law to come help on the farm. About three weeks after their first round of shots, our calves will be given a second round of vaccinations. This is when we individually weigh them and decide what calves will be kept as bulls for our annual sale, and which ones will become steers. By working with the animals and taking notes, we determine if any need to be culled due to poor disposition or other factors like structure, muscle mass and weight.

Cattle fall into three categories when it comes to weaning: sorted and hauled to the livestock market, weaned less than 45 days, or weaned for 45 or more days. According to Cattlefax, those that are weaned for 45 or more days net the highest average sale price and generally have the greatest return on investment. Cattle weaned for less than 28 days can bring less than those sold straight off the cow. This is because short-weaned calves immunity is at its lowest when moving through the market and they are more likely to have health problems when sent to a feedlot or a backgrounder. Producers may also notice the calves lose a bit of weight and may look fatigued during the first two weeks of weaning, which isn’t ideal for sale day.

Every farm uses different weaning methods based on the available facilities, time and labor. The most important thing is to do what works best on your farm, and to communicate with the livestock market how long the calves have been weaned and details of your vaccination and feeding program. This can help you bring home a bigger paycheck on sale day for all that hard work and noisy bawling you put up with during weaning!

Whether it’s cross country meets or makeshift cow crossings, fall brings many activities both on the farm and with the family.