From the October-December 2018 Beef Newsletter
It is interesting as you get around the world and learn that not everyone does things the way we may have been taught by whoever mentored us into the cow calf game.
Weaning calves from their mommas is as good an example of any where traditions get shaken up as we seek the best way for calves to transition to self-supporting.
Plug your ears with cotton and head inside
You can tell that weaning (or at least some judicious sorting) is going on when the serenity of the countryside turns into the echoes of a crowd trying to leave a rock concert at a race track. Every momma is bellowing for her calf who is hollering back at a different pitch. At its worst weaning can be a couple days of bawling descending into hoarse croaking and fence riding.
Does it have to be that way? Usually separation stress is minimized when the calves are already eating with momma what we expect them to eat without momma. In this, calves on really good pasture might make the transition better than calves in a drylot. If they can be in a rising intake of nutrition they will have less need for milk. If momma shifts down to a lower nutritional level she will stop producing milk, but we can’t do that to the calves... Ideally, if mommas and calves cannot see each other there will be less sustained hollering… in Europe they only allow calves a half day of access to momma so that they are already used to separation before actual weaning.
At a recent NRCS field day this subject was mentioned peripherally as an audience comment that since they learned how to do rotation grazing weaning calves became easier. Teaching their cows, therefore the calves by cow side, to follow them down the lane to a new paddock each day proves a classic Pavlovian drill, as the cows learn that if they follow you they get new feed.
There is a huge difference in nutrient energy density between an old native grass and improved high-energy grasses. Having both (** dry off cows on native grasses which are “maintenance” level nutrition, wean calves into vegetative high-energy grasses that will satisfy the growth urge) available in separate paddocks at the time of weaning just makes it easier.
Fall cover crop mixes can be especially useful for late-season weaning paddocks; the beneficial effect to soil retention and organic matter remains even if you graze off the lush new fall growth.