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Weaning calves: Methods and the use of CRYSTALYX

Spring born calves are now being weaned, shipped, marketed and transitioned from summer through fall to winter.  The words “calf weaning” can spell fear for some producers and opportunity for others.  Weaning practices or methods vary from conventional methods to ones where pre-conditioning is involved, to fenceline, two-step, or simply the “weaning them on the truck to town” method.

Weaning tips normally revolve around stress reduction.  There may be an ongoing debate on which programs work the best and which fit facilities, topography, feed resources, and manpower issues.  There is strong data from several studies around the U.S. that suggest fenceline weaning or low-stress weaning programs have advantages on calf behavior and performance. 

Below summarizes some benefits of a fenceline weaning system for a 7 day period vs. conventional or total separation weaning from dams (source, Price et. al - Univ. of California Davis 2003)

  • Increased time grazing and eating in days immediately following weaning
  • Less time walking and more time spent lying down following weaning
  • Less time bawling (vocalizing)
  • Increased weight gain in the first 2wks following weaning (23 more lbs.) and this gain difference persisted through 10 weeks following weaning (26 lbs. more )

While the advantages above do support the practice, Fencline weaning will require well maintained fences (often a combination of a permanent and electric fence) and adequate, easily accessed water on both sides of the fence.

Whatever the practice, good nutrition is not exempt in making a program more successful.  Just as important is management and perhaps the weaning method that makes the most sense for an individual operation.  Even calves sold right off the cow will benefit by good nutrition prior to weaning as this will help whoever buys them in their receiving program.  This may sound like it costs the seller and benefits the buyer, but calves marketed in value added programs or preconditioned typically bring significantly more money.

For years now, Crystalyx®has highlighted a very versatile supplement product in Brigade®.  This product was first evaluated in receiving calves that are typically stressed and experience high morbidity.  Volumes have been written that calves that get sick in a weaning or receiving situation do not perform as well, are less profitable, less marketable, have higher health and treatment cost, etc...  One key to reducing stress and ultimately sickness in weaned calves is getting them to start on feed quicker or maintain feed intake.  Several demonstrations and the experience of many cattle producers have shown the economic benefits of Brigade®.


Using a product like Crystalyx® Brigade® will supply a continuous availability of concentrated nutrients in a palatable form.  Even if calves are not eating normally, they still tend to consume Brigade®.  This small amount of supplement will increase appetite, stimulate rumen microbial activity and forage digestion.  It will also encourage water consumption which in-turn can help improve dry matter intake.   One practice that would work in both fenceline and conventional weaning programs would be to offer Brigade® to both cows and calves prior to weaning for about 1-2 weeks.  This gives a head start nutritionally for calves, plus it acclimates them to the barrel so they know exactly what it is come the day of weaning.  

CRYSTALYX® Brigade® has been recommended by many CRYSTALYX® dealers and sales professionals as a key tool in starter programs.  Make it part of yours when weaning program as it will fit all methods!