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From Mama to Autonomy: Weaning ways
By Peggy Joseph-Potter RN, BSN, MHA

Weaning is more about the health of the cow than the calf. Lactation requires 50% more feed, 70% more energy, and twice as much protein as pregnancy alone. As Fall approaches and pastures decline, difficulties can arise as breeders attempt to maintain the cow in good body condition for Spring calving. It is therefore more prudent to wean mature calves rather than continue to supplement the pregnant cow. Calves are usually ready to wean at 5-7 months of age, however they can be weaned sooner if conditions necessitate the separation of calves and cows.
Spring calves means Fall weaning. Weaning is one of the most stressful times in your calf’s short life. While the mature calf no longer needs to supplements its nutritional needs with mama’s milk it depends on her for its emotional needs. Planning, preconditioning and optimizing your calf’s health make this a much less distressing transition. The old timers may have many stories and methods for completing this process; newer research provides opportunities to make this a much less traumatic experience for young calves.
In this article, I will discuss some of the new ways, some of the old ways and provide you with supporting data that may help you to make the best decision for your situation.
Pre-conditioning is essential for the maintenance of health and immunity in the newly weaned calf. Providing essential nutrients through the introduction of bunk and creep feeders allows calves to acclimate their eating habits to prevent weight loss during this stressful period. Preconditioning calves involves getting them used to eating and drinking out of a bunk feeder or trough. This should be done without the cows around, as cows tend to be more pushy and bossy around the feeders and may not let the calves in at all.
A creep feed or precondition ration for calves should include a mix of grain silage and legume-hay, with the addition of a concentrate supplement that includes protein. There are many good calf starter products available and your local feed store can help you develop a program to meet your needs. Make sure any supplement provided does not contain animal byproducts due to the danger of BSE. Try to keep feeders free from mold and dust as their presence may lead to the development of pneumonias.
The goal is to minimize the stress level of both mom and calf during the weaning process, therefore other stress-laden procedures such as vaccinations, castration and dehorning should precede any attempt to separate the pair. Calves should also have good parasite control products introduced either as a pour-on or through injection prior to weaning, as they are more susceptible to worms during this period. We also try to break our calves to tie and lead before weaning as this socializes them to the human presence and reduces that which is unfamiliar after they leave their moms.
Methods for Weaning: There are several methods for weaning, ranging from low stress natural to abrupt separation.
Natural weaning takes place without human intervention. The calves and cows are left together until the calf decides it no longer needs to nurse or the mother cow kicks it off prior to the arrival of her next calf. This technique provides the least amount of stress to the calf however; it takes its toll on the bred cow as their bodies try to prepare for the birth of yet another calf. They will usually lack the conditioning necessary to supplement their newborn’s needs leading to a lower birth weight calf.
Traditional corral weaning. This method can be traumatic for calves as they are abruptly removed from their mothers and separated at the same ranch or shipped to a new location. Weight loss is likely to continue to occur until the calf adapts to its new surroundings. Significant preconditioning is necessary to sustain the calves during the process and there may be permanently lower conditioning than a calf weaned in a less stressful manner. Some of these changes can be prevented by removing the cows and leaving the calves in an area with other cattle that are familiar to them.
Pasture Weaning. The combining of pasture weaning with fence-line weaning can be accomplished simply by placing them side by side and moving the cows to another location, this allows the calves to stay in an area familiar to them. Pasture weaning is ideal when drought conditions are not present as free-choice grazing allows the calves to eat as desired. Since we place our cow-calf pair on pasture after the first 15-30 days this transition has been easiest for us to accomplish. That does not mean we do not have some disruption for the first day or two however, we have found this method the most humane and least stressful for the pair.
Fence-Line Weaning. This method allows calves to maintain physical contact with the cows and in most cases prevents the calves from nursing. It works best if an electric wire is present and even better if a double fence is available to keep the mother and calf separated. We have had a few of the most determined calves get through what we thought was adequate fencing. Fence-line weaning allows the pair to see and smell each other but prevents the calves from nursing. They generally will stop trying after the first three to five days.
Spiked Nose ring weaning. Nose rings or flaps can be applied to the calf’s nose to prevent suckling. This method allows the cow and calf to stay together in the same pasture or paddock. The nose flaps are noxious to the cow as they contain uncomfortable spikes that prevent the cow from accepting the calf’s gestures to nurse. Calves will usually stop trying after the first three to five days. However it can take two or three weeks for the cow’s bag to dry up; therefore do not take the rings off too soon, or you will have to start all over.
The goal in any weaning process you chose is to minimize the stress level on both the cow and calf. For the calf, even a vaccinated animal can have reduced immunity leading to the development of disease especially those affecting the lungs such as pneumonias. The pregnant cow adapts more easily after the first 3-5 days, however it may take longer if she is a first time mother.
Wean calves during good weather to reduce stress and possible disease processes,
Separate cows and calves so that they can still see and smell each other,
Do stressful procedures such as breaking, vaccinating, castrating, and dehorning prior to weaning,
Feed calves in bunk or creep feeder to acclimate them to eating and drinking on their own,
Provide adequate nutrition through appropriate rations of grain, hay, and supplements,
Socialize your animals prior to weaning to decrease their fear of the unknown,
Wean animals in surroundings with familiar, compatible paddock mates.
Having healthy, happy calves takes planning and preparation. The transition for both cow and calf can be made low stress by taking a few extra steps to reduce the fear and provide a sense of security for your animals.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge our friends and members in Texas and the East Coast who are indeed suffering the wrath of Mother Nature. Our thoughts and prayers are with each one of you as you struggle to meet your needs and those of your livestock.
(1997). Feeding and Handling Calves. In M. &. Ensminger, Beef Cattle Science (p. 727). Danville: Interstate Publishers, Inc.
Thomas, H. S. (1998). Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle. Storey Publishing.

Peggy and her husband, Bob Potter, own and operate PJ Ranch LLC in Winton, California. They are Miniature and Standard Hereford owners and active participants in the MHBA since 2002. She is employed as a critical care nurse for a local medical center.


It’s all in the genes

Assembled by Peggy Joseph-Potter RN, BSN, MHA

For anyone registering cattle, perusing pedigrees, or checking out potential semen donors, you may have found some unfamiliar notations following the animal’s name. Recent changes implemented by the American Hereford Association may affect both registration and management of your breeding program. In November 2010, the American Hereford Association implemented a mandatory DNA testing policy for all future walking sires. All Hereford sires born after January 1, 2011, need to be DNA genotyped at the official American Hereford Association DNA laboratory before their progeny can be registered. The intent of the policy is to improve the quality control of pedigrees and to test for three non-lethal genetic abnormalities. The same requirement for all AI sires and donor dams was previously implemented. Why the change you may ask? According to Joe Roybal of Beef Magazine, it was prompted by the difficulties and expense in determining sires in the standard breeds. The issue with genetic testing was most likely prompted by the Angus industry when Arthrogryposis Multiplex, a very popular sire, lead to the genetic evaluation of 10,000 direct sons and daughters after it was discovered he carried the lethal gene for Curly Calf Syndrome.

Recessive genes are responsible for the development of three genetic abnormalities known to be present in Hereford cattle, Dilutor-Rat Tail, Hypotrichosis and Idiopathic Epilepsy. Therefore, an animal seemingly normal in appearance can produce offspring that demonstrate recessive gene abnormalities. Genetic abnormalities are inherited defects, their form may be extreme, showing visible signs with a lethal result or they may be less obvious, causing premature abortion, early embryonic death or produce animals that are weak, slow growing with lower vigor, fertility and longevity.
Recessive inheritance can cause a parent to carry the defective gene and appear normal; the parent is then known as a carrier. If both parents pass the defective gene to the offspring, the genetic defect shows up and the genetic condition in the offspring is called homozygous recessive. The defective gene in the carrier animal is present along with the normal gene and this condition is termed heterozygous. The underlying problem of genetic defects is that parents that appear to be perfectly normal can be carriers and so can produce offspring that are defective. Parents that never produce defective progeny are in the majority and are called homozygous normal. At first glance, it seems that if we could identify carrier animals and eliminate them from the breeding population the problem of recessive genetic defects would be solved. However, it is necessary to explore the problem a little further before deciding that identifying carriers is necessarily worth the money and effort.

Symptoms of the Dilutor-Rat Tail gene are as follows: Carrier Hereford bulls or females when mated to black cattle can produce offspring with a hair coat that is gray, smokey or chocolate color. Hypotrichosis gene: Partial to almost complete lack of hair. Affected calves are often born with very short, fine, kinky hair that may fall out leaving bare spots or areas particularly susceptible to rubbing. The condition may vary in expression as the animal matures and is usually less noticeable in older animals. The hair coat will sometimes appear “frosted” or “silverish.” Tail switch may be underdeveloped.
Idiopathic Epilepsy gene: Age of onset or first seizure can be variable, ranging from birth to several months of age. Occurrence and persistence of seizure may be influenced by environmental stressors such as temperature extremes or increased physical activity. Upon initial onset of seizure episodes individuals will typically lie on their sides with all limbs extended in a rigid state. Manual flexing of the limbs is possible, but return to the extended position occurs after release. Seizure episodes may last from several minutes to more than an hour. Carrier Free (F) identifies the animal as tested and the results indicate that the animal is not a carrier.

Breeders wanting to have their animals tested must use the AHA official lab, Maxxam Analytics. All samples submitted for parentage will also be tested for genetic abnormalities. The cost for DNA testing of less than 50 animals is $32/head for hair samples and $37/head for semen, blood or tissue. In order to test your animals, call the AHA office, 816-842-3757, and request a DNA kit. You will need to have your animal’s registration number available. You will receive a Genetic Marker Test form. Each form is specifically bar coded to the registration number of the animal.

Instructions for obtaining a hair sample: Pull hair samples above the tail switch. Do not cut the hair. The hair root contains the materials needed for DNA testing. Pull 20-25 hairs evenly and directly from the tail so the hair does not break. The switch must be dry and brushed clean of all debris. The lab suggests wrapping the hair around a pencil and then pulling.

According to Jonathan Beever, a leader in cattle genetics, the issue is one of management and accurately identifying carriers through genetic testing; eliminating the gene source is contrary to overall breed improvement. In the absence of DNA testing, genetic abnormalities can be minimized by utilizing outbreeding and examining pedigrees to avoid mating of animals with common ancestors within at least two or three generations. In addition, the practice of turning over the sires after one or two breeding seasons and using fewer cows per bull reduces the chances of producing animals with inherited defects. No matter which process you use to protect your herd be aware of the possibility of genetic abnormities and plan you program accordingly.

American Hereford Association. AHA implements new DNA policy for walking herd sires. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from The Pairie Star.
Causes of Gentic Abnormalities in Cattle. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from Petahia.
DNA Testing Procedures. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from American Hereford Association.
Roybal, J. Avoiding THE WORST. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from BEEF.
Peggy and her husband, Bob Potter, own and operate PJ Ranch LLC in Winton, California. They have been Miniature Hereford owners and active participants in the MHBA since 2002. She is employed as a critical care nurse for a local medical center.


It is that time of year again and as many of us prepare to make the trek to Denver for the National Miniature Hereford Show, some may wonder about the importance of BVD-PI testing for all show and sale animals. The following information is intended to provide a simplified overview of the disease, transmission and herd eradication. For specific information related to your animals’ exposure contact your ranch veterinarian.
What is BVDV?
Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV) is a virus known to infect domestic livestock and some wild animals. For cattle producers the virus causes economic losses through decreased weight gains, decreased milk production, reproductive losses (abortions), and animal death. There are two categories of BVD infections.
1- Transient (acute) infection (“TI”)
• Short term (weeks)
• Acquired after birth
• TI cattle become immune and clear virus
• Greater than 95% of BVD infections are TI
• TI cattle are a minor source of virus spread in herd
2- Persistent (chronic) infection (“PI”)
• Life long persistent infection acquired while in the uterus therefore only fetal infections results in BVD-PI
• PI cattle can never become immune
•Less than 5% of BVD infection are PI
• PI cattle in herds are the major source of virus spread
Over 90% of BVD-PI calves are born from normal dams (no prior BVDV exposure)

Development of BVD PI

Persistently infected (PI) BVD cattle are created when the dam and her fetus become infected with BVD virus between 45 to 125 days after conception. During this period of development, the immune system of the fetus has not yet developed and the BVD infection is not recognized. The fetus is not capable of recognizing the virus and does not develop antibodies against the BVD. Fetuses infected during this period survive and are permanently infected with the BVD virus, shedding the virus throughout their lifetime.

Signs and symptoms of BVD-PI

Most BVDV infection problems in cattle herds go unnoticed since 70-90% of BVD infections do not result in observable signs of disease. When present, the most common disease caused by BVD virus infection in cattle herds is poor reproductive performance including, abortions, poor conception rates, stillbirths, and weak calves. The BVD virus infection can causes suppression of the bovine immune system resulting in increased susceptibility to other infectious diseases such as scours, pneumonia and poor weaning weights.

How is BVDV transmitted?

The main source of BVDV in cattle herds is BVDPI animals. Virus in BVD-PI animals is shed in all body secretions including nasal discharge, saliva, tears, milk, feces, urine and semen. Transmission occurs via ingestion, inhalation, and even such things as boots and vehicles. The most common ways that BVDV can enter a herd are as follows:
• By purchasing replacement cattle at auctions
• By purchasing a pregnant animal with PI calf
• Introducing replacements or show stock without quarantine
• Failure to maintain a BVD vaccination program
• Failure to test replacements for BVD PI
• Contaminated semen or embryos
• Borrowed or unknown bulls

Why test and remove BVD-PI animals from a cattle herd?

Persistently infected (PI) cattle are the major source of BVD infection and disease in cattle because they shed huge amount of BVD virus throughout their lives. The major economic loss associated with BVD in cattle operations is loss of income due to loss of calves either before birth (abortion), at birth (weak calves) or between birth and weaning, or from diseases associated with immunosuppression such as scours and pneumonia.

Can BVDV infection be eradicated from a herd with vaccination?

No, BVD vaccination alone (with either modified-live or killed vaccines) cannot keep a cattle herd free of BVD-PI cattle nor completely control BVD infection according to the Academy of Veterinary Consultants and American Association of Bovine Practitioners. Both groups promote a threepronged approach to BVD control, a combination
of BVD-PI testing and removal, vaccination and biosecurity, (good herdsmanship, sanitation, record keeping, and an active MLV vaccination program).

Ethics-Do the right thing!

Do not knowingly share your BVDV problem with unsuspecting buyers. BVD-PI is a serious problem that if kept unchecked could create devastating losses for a breeder. It is unethical to pass animals with known or suspected BVDV infections on to another breeder.

Lincoln, D. S. (n.d.). Beef Cattle Handbook-Cattle Vaccines and their uses.
Retrieved from Iowa Beef Center.
Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. (2007,
October). Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab. Retrieved
November 15, 2009, from Bovine Viral Diarrhea Persistenly Infected
(BVD-PI) Ear Notch Testing Program for Catle Herds.
Peggy and her husband, Bob Potter, own and operate PJ Ranch LLC in
Winton, California where she serves as the Vice President of Animal
Health. They have been Miniature Hereford owners and active
participants in the MHBA since 2002. She is also employed as a critical
care nurse at a local medical center.

Information contained in this article is for general
informative purposes only. Please contact your local
vet for specific recommendations.