Friday, November 4, 2011

Weaning on a Wire

Someone said, “The last of the old is always better than the first of the new.” I think they were talking about weaning calves on a wire instead of in a corral.

We have always separated the cows and calves and immediately trucked the calves home to stay in the corral until they are completely weaned. Trouble is, they walk around and around the pens, bawling. They not only miss mom, they have to change from range life to eating hay out of a manger and drinking from a trough, often in dusty conditions. It works okay, but we always want to do better. It’s stressful to the calves and the owners alike. 

This is our second year weaning on a wire, which means you put the cows on one side of an electric fence and the calves on the other. They're free to almost touch noses and communicate with each other, but no nursing allowed. In five days the calves are ready to go home to be turned out on green pastures.

Unfortunately, we can’t request the cows just walk away from their calves. It’s not like parent orientation at Boise State University, “Say your goodbyes - students go right and parents go left!” Instead, we flow the herd towards a gate, letting the cows outside and turning the calves back into the mob. Cows naturally like to change fields, so the flow usually goes well for the most part.

This year we got about two-thirds of the cows out and then they started balking at the gate, thinking there was electricity flowing through the gap. We foolishly kept trying to force them into it, and then finally fell back to a gate in the corner. When that didn’t work we went to plan “C,” putting the rest of the herd into an already grazed field and letting the cows back through in one direction and the calves another. Finally, with tired cowboys, and tired horses, we re-rode the cows, gathering up the calves that had gotten past us, then headed for the ridge top where the horsetrailers waited.

Weaning on a wire requires good fresh feed on both sides of the fence, an easy drink on the calf side, and a solid hot fence. Even though our cattle are trained to electric fences, there were a dozen calves that crawled through.

We checked the herd daily, and were relieved to see the calves spread out on the meadow, the creek close by. They continued to be bright and healthy. Yes, they still walked and bawled, but mom was not far away and they stayed full on good feed.

On day five we trailed the calves up over two ridges and into the trucking corrals. They filed on the trucks quickly; only one truck had to be unloaded at home after dark.

I took Grandma Bonnie to see the calves yesterday. She doesn’t drive anymore and I knew she would love to see the calf crop. They looked happy, sunning themselves in the afternoon light, chewing their cuds. After a challenging week, seeing them content is a satisfying feeling – a year’s work in review.

quiet again

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