Fenceline Weaning for Beef Cattle

February 18, 2008 Print Friendly and PDF

Weaning time can be stressful for cows and calves. Under traditional weaning systems, changes in environment, diet composition, and pathogen exposure can reduce animal performance and result in health problems. In response to these challenges, interest in fenceline weaning has grown in recent years.

Fenceline weaning is a management system in which the calves are removed from their dams but are allowed to see, hear, and smell their dams. Depending on the fencing used, physical contact may also be possible. It has the potential to reduce stress related to transport, changes in environment, and diet adaptation. Fenceline weaning may also reduce labor demands and costs associated with drylot facilities.

Considerations

  1. Fencing should be substantial enough to prevent the calves from nursing and keep the cows and calves separated. Producers have used various combinations of electric and non-electric, and high-tensile, barbed, and woven wire fencing. Cattle that have not been exposed to electric fencing either woven wire or at least 5 strands of electric fencing will likely be necessary. If the cattle are familiar with electric fencing, three strands will likely be sufficient. Yet another option is to utilize 4 to 5 strands of barbed wire combined with a single strand of electric fence offset from the main fence.
  2. Pasture the cows and calves together in the pasture where the calves will be after weaning. One week in the pasture allows time for the calves to become familiar with the fences and water source. At weaning time, return the calves to the same pasture and move the cows to the adjoining pasture.
  3. Some producers have found it useful to use a yearling or a cow without a calf in the weaning pasture to lead the calves to the water source.
  4. Performance of the weaned calves is highly dependent on forage quality and quantity. Options to provide high quality forage in the weaning pasture are:
    1. Graze early in the season and allow adequate re-growth prior to weaning,
    2. Harvest hay and then graze at weaning time.
    3. Plant ryegrass, small grains or other annual forages to provide high quality forage.
  5. Fenceline weaning fits well into a management system where maximize gain is not important (replacement heifer development or backgrounding calves).
  6. The need for supplementation of calves weaned on pasture depends on forage quality and quantity and the desired average daily gain.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.