Two-Stage Weaning

Steve Boyles, OSU Beef Extension Specialist

The objective this experiment (Wiese et al. 20016) was to investigate the effects of weaning method and timing of weaning on the behavioral responses of calves before, during, and after weaning. Thirty pairs of Hereford cows nursing male calves born between March 14 and April 11 and sired by Gelbvieh, Red Angus, or Simmental bull were used.  All calves were vaccinated at 6 to 8 wk of age. All calves were castrated by banding at one day of age.

Calves were assigned to 1 of 3 weaning treatments:
1. A 2-stage weaning approach where calves were fitted with a plastic nose flap that   prevented suckling but were returned back to the common pen in the presence of their dam
2. Abrupt weaning of calves by removing their dam on day 1 of weaning
3. Abrupt weaning of calves by physical separation from their dam on the day of shipping

Although treatment 2 calves were physically separated from their dam, they were housed with the same treatment 1 and 3 calves.  It is important to note that they did not verify whether treatment 2 calves attempted to or successfully suckled from the remaining dams in the pen.

Upon initiation of the weaning period, The calves physically separated from their dams took twice as many steps and spent less time lying down on day 2 of weaning than calves not physically separated from their dams nor the calves with flaps. This suggests that despite both calves with nose flaps and calves physically weaned from dams on day 1 of weaning, it was the separation from the dam that caused an alteration in behavior.

At the physiological level, all 3 treatments were affected equally by the stresses of weaning. There were no behavioral differences detected between any of the treatments from day 3 during weaning onward and suggests that the positive effect of nose flaps is short in duration. These results support that abrupt weaning is more stressful for calves than weaning in 2 stages but suggest that weaning with the use of nose flaps is not stress free. Likely, the benefit of 2-stage weaning is due to dividing the stress into 2 smaller stressors, namely the loss of milk followed by loss of the dam.  There were no differences in rate of shrink.

Dry matter (DMI) intake was influenced by day, with DMI decreasing from day 1 to 2, but then increasing from day 3 to reach a maximum of about 17 pounds on day 5.

The results of the present experiment indicated that regardless of the weaning method used, weaning calves before transportation minimizes behavioral indicators of stress in a receiving period but does not improve DMI or gain. Additionally, the use of a 2-stage weaning approach mitigated behavioral changes in response to the weaning process.

The results of this experiment support previous studies indicating that use of a 2-stage weaning approach reduces behavioral indicators of stress associated with weaning in calves. These findings further suggest that part of the benefit observed with 2-stage weaning may be attributable to calves being weaned before transport. Furthermore, weaning calves before transportation, regardless of method, can be effective in reducing behavioral indicators of stress upon arrival at the feedlot.

Source: The effect of weaning regimen on behavioral and production responses of beef calves; B.I. Wiese, S. Hendrick, J. M. Stookey, K. S. Schwartzkopf-Genswein, S. Li,C. Plaizier, and G. B. Penner. The Professional Animal Scientist 32 (2016):229–235;