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Weaning Summer-born or Fall Calves in Late Winter

Innovative option available to wean summer or fall calves in late winter.

Curtis Koehn


When ranchers switch from January and February calving to green-grass calving in May and June to be more in sync with nature, there’s a question of when to wean the calves. This seedstock producer came up with a nice way to wean in late winter — a method that would also work for some fall-calving herds.

Trevor and Cheryl Branvold raise registered Angus near Wawota, Sask., Canada, on a farm that’s been in Cheryl’s family since it was settled in 1888.

“Currently we run about 150 pairs and market 2-year-old bulls; we now calve in May and June so we hold those bull calves over and sell them in March just before they turn two. Our winters are cold and at first we battled early calving in order to have the bull calves old enough to sell as yearlings, but now we realize we don’t have to do it that way,” says Trevor.

“We switched to May-June calving a few years ago, and this year weaned our calves in late February. We are still trying to figure out the best timing for weaning, because the cows are still nursing calves when it’s cold.” Fall-calving herds face this same situation, managing cow-calf pairs through winter.

One of the things Trevor and Cheryl had to get away from was winter calving, since it’s so labor intensive and very hard on newborns in this weather. The older calves, however, do very well wintering with their mothers.

“This year we tried a new thing for us, providing a creep area for those calves. It’s not for feeding grain, but just an area where they can get away from the cows and eat higher-quality hay. Often for the cows we utilize a straw-based ration and grain pellets, and the calves do better with higher-quality protein,” Trevor says.

The calves can also bed in the creep area during severe weather but the adjacent pasture has enough brush and trees that the cattle generally have adequate shelter. It’s clean out there and the calves can go off with their mothers into the brush, he says. In a region with less natural shelter, however, a creep area where calves can get out of the wind and have plenty of bedding could be very beneficial.

The creep area the Branvolds used this year was the home corral that the cattle come into for water and pellets. “We just put a creep gate in the gateway into one of our pens — a pen about 200 feet by about 350 feet in size. We put the hay bales and bedding in there for the calves and it worked very well. The calves can come and go as they wish,” says Trevor.

The other benefit was that when it came time to wean, this was accomplished by just closing the gate when they fed the hay to the calves, when the calves were all in the creep pen. The calves didn’t know anything different until they wanted to go back to their mothers and the gate was closed.

This was very stress-free weaning; the calves were in a familiar place with familiar feed, and hadn’t been stressed by being sorted. The cows were nearby, right through the fence. This was just a different way of fenceline weaning and it worked very well for them.

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Editor’s Note: Heather Smith Thomas is a cattlewoman and freelance writer from Salmon, Idaho.







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