These calves were taken off their mothers over a month earlier than we normally would due to the drought this year. Weaning early will allow their mothers to switch from using energy to make milk to using energy to put on condition before winter sets in, and in maintaining their new pregnancy. My dad said he can't remember ever weaning in the middle of August before.
Weaning is one of those ranch practices that is very unique on each operation. What works for one guy may not for the next due to differences in environment, weather, cattle, facilities, disease history and the number of people available to help. Here's what we did this year.
Blackleg. This is a pretty unique management practice, and we are able to do it successfully in part because disease is rare in our area and our cattle are not co-mingled with anyone elses. We do have a complete health program for them, and that is covered further on in this post.
When we wean, it occurs at a corral located a few miles from our house. We sort and load the calves onto our cattle pot, haul them home, and unload them. This means the cows are bawling at a set of corrals far enough away they can't be heard by the calves, and vice versa. Instead of looking for mom, we've found the calves settle down and go to eating faster than when we had the cows right outside the corral.
Keeping the calves full is among our top priorities. They are locked in a smaller pen, shown in the top photo, for the first couple days to prevent them from walking. Walking is when the calves get to walking (as if that wasn't self explanatory) around the corral. Pretty soon they're all worked up, and possibly running, instead of settling down and eating. Walking is bad, and can result in the corral being torn down, increased sickness, reduced feed intake and gain, and higher anxiety levels in the calves. These are all the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish as we wean.
After they're over the initial surprise of being weaned, and we deem they're ready based on extensive observation, we open up the corral and they're given access to a much larger area. Within this area are two bottomless feed bunks we keep full of ground grass hay. They also have access to two round bale feeders from their smaller pen, also full of grass hay. If calves are eating, they aren't thinking about mom as much, and when calves are eating they're going to be gaining. We want to get them gaining as much and as fast as possible; as ranchers we always sell pounds. Plus, full calves are happy calves, and we want them to be happy.
coccidiosis, which can be a very serious and fatal problem in our area. We are doing the 21-day treatment this year. These bottles cost between $95 and $110 each, and so far we've gone through over a half dozen of them. Again, not cheap, but worth it to keep the calves healthy.
We add both of these to a 7,000 gallon cistern, which we've calculated out to gallons per foot. We've also calculated how much of each additive we need to add per foot of water. This way we can turn on the cistern, add the proper amount of Corid and tetracycline, let it fill up a foot, or two or three, then turn it off and have everything mixed and ready to go. A "story pole" is how we measure the depth of the cistern. I know, almost to the minute, how long it takes the well to pump a foot of water into the cistern.