Manage to reduce weaning stress

Research suggests some non-traditional approaches can help reduce weaning stress. Studies at University of California at Davis compared weaning seven-month old calves by one of five methods:

  • Fenceline separation from dams—on pasture
  • Total separation from dams—on pasture
  • Total separation from dams on drylot after being preconditioned to hay
  • Total separation from dams to drylot without preconditioning to hay
  • Non-weaned controls on pasture

Calves allowed fenceline contact spent no less time during the weaning process feeding than unweaned controls, while those in totally separated treatments ate less. Isolated calves spent more time walking fence, standing up and bawling.

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In the end, although the behavioral effects of weaning were relatively short-lived, the less-stressed calves showed higher weight gains in the days following weaning—differences that persisted for at least 10 weeks.

  • Four to six weeks prior to weaning, provide supplemental minerals to enhance response to vaccines and treatments given after weaning. Now, further field trials conducted and supported by Ridley, makers of CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, demonstrate that offering a highly palatable low-moisture block at weaning appears to offer the same jump-start to the feed-familiarization process.

When fortified and—more importantly—highly palatable supplements are placed in weaning pens, even calves that are naive to supplement experience interest that stimulates acclimation to the bunk. And eating calves are less stressed.

Quick summary

  • Permitting calves to retain their natural behavioral instincts by adjusting your weaning management can help reduce stress.
  • Providing a highly palatable weaning supplement aids bunk-acclimation.

Supplement strategies in action

For the fourth season now, Kentucky backgrounding operation CPC Livestock has been running its own trials to try to prove whether CRYSTALYX® Brand Brigade® low-moisture blocks are cost effective or not. They have.

“The starter feed we provide these calves has everything in it those animals need,” says CPC’s feed manager and co-owner Ivan Pedigo. “So there’s no reason that block should make any difference.”

Yet, they’ve found that when calves consume only about two-tenths of a pound per-head, per-day, dry-matter intake increases, feed efficiency improves, calf gains go up and feed and treatment costs go down. Even after accounting for cost to supply the supplement, total cost of gain drops by 1.5 to 4 cents per pound, notes coowner Marshall Celsor.


“No matter how good your starter feed,” notes Ridley Block Operations’ Research Manager Mark Robbins, “there’s always a percentage that don’t eat it for several days. A fortified palatable supplement like Brigade® changes that behavior, while providing a nutritional boost when it’s needed most.”