For 21 years, EasyWean weaning rings have been used by Australian graziers to improve productivity and efficiency.
In 1999, holistic management educator and grazier Brian Marshall learned of the nosering and the advantages offered in reducing the cost from loss of production due to stress.
“Brian recognised the benefits it would provide and started manufacturing and selling the noserings in Australia,” EasyWean business director Gillian Stephens said.
“EasyWean is a product created by graziers for graziers who have a passion for improving productivity and are striving for best practice in terms of animal welfare.”
It has been widely confirmed that stress has a detrimental effect on livestock productivity. One of the most stressful times for cattle is during weaning.
As such, any measure which alleviates or minimizes stress is to the benefit of the producer and helps reduce weight loss.
The most common method of weaning is complete separation of cows and calves, which leads to the stress of nutritional changes as well as a change in the physical and social environment.
EasyWean provides an alternative to this practice, by allowing the calf to stay with its mother and mob while being weaned.
“The ring not only provides a barrier to weaning but also works on the cow. When the calf tries to suckle, the spikes make the cow uncomfortable, so she moves away,” Gillian explained.
The ring needs to be left in the nose for four to six weeks. They’re easily fitted and removed. They’re also reusable.
At the average weaning age of seven months, Gillian says, milk loss only has about a l0pc effect on the weaning weight of calves. Separation is the major cause of weight loss, with calves recorded losing 25-30kgs when moved from their mothers.
The stress releases hormones into the system, she continued, which causes cattle to become prone to physical illness. As a result, reconditioning is often required, which can be a costly and time-consuming process.
Studies show that behavioural stress responses, such as increased vocalization (bawling cattle) and increased walking and pacing, result in increased energy requirements of 4pc to 24pc over maintenance requirements.
“What’s also only recently being understood is that marbling in beef isn’t controlled by feedlots in the final months of feeding,” she said.
“It’s linked to feed quality and stress much earlier in the animal’s life. Meat tenderness is negatively affected by animals losing and gaining weight.”
Reducing stress increases profit by increasing production, immune response, weight gain, and carcass quality of the calves. As such, low stress weaning is key to quality beef production.
“EasyWean also allows weaned calves to learn herd behaviour as they stay with their mothers and the herd instead of being grouped with other calves at weaning time, which can improve some aspects of temperament, plant selection, mothering ability and adaptation,” Gillian said.
Weaning calves with EasyWean next to their mothers also enables glaziers to manage their land more effectively.
Many producers think that the impact of weaning stress is not their problem. It is thought that the cost from the stress and subsequent loss of production are to the detriment of the buyer, not the seller. This is true in terms of the health and growth of the calf but the loss of production of the cow is not taken into consideration.
Stress can affect reproduction and milk production in cattle. When cows are stressed, a variety of mechanisms are triggered which suppress reproductive and maternal performance. This makes weaning stress an issue for the seller too, not just the buyer.
Gillian says a cow’s condition is directly related with her chance of reconceiving in the next mating season.
“Cows need a body condition score of three or higher at calving to maximise the chance of getting pregnant again within 75 days,” she said.
“In Australia’s variable climate a cow feeding her calf may struggle to maintain her body condition. De-stressing the cow by managing when she weans her calf is vital to maximizing conception rates.”
FOR twenty years, EasyWean weaning rings have been used by Australian graziers to improve productivity and efficiency says business director Gillian Stephens. Gillian said it was in 1999 when holistic management educator and grazier Brian Marshall learned of the nosering and the advantages it would offer in reducing the cost from loss of production due to stress.
“Brian recognised the benefits it would provide and started manufacturing and selling the noserings in Australia,” she said. “EasyWean is a product created by graziers for graziers, who have a passion for improving productivity and striving for best practice in terms of welfare for their animals.”EasyWean helps cows
Gillian said a cow’s condition is directly related with her chance of reconceiving in the next mating season. “Cows need a body condition score of three higher at calving to maximise the chance of getting pregnant again within 75 days. “In Australia’s variable climate a cow feeding her calf may struggle to maintain her body condition. De-stressing the cow by managing when she weans her calf is vital to maximizing conception rates.”
She said in dry seasons, early weaning is recommended to take pressure off cows, and though taking the calf away from its mother early may wean the calf, it can lead to other significant issues. “Weaning the calf next to its mother with the use of an EasyWean weaning ring is an effective tool in controlling the process.”EasyWean helps calves
Gillian said at the average weaning age of seven months, milk loss only has about a 10 per cent effect on the weaning weight of calves. “Separation is the major cause of weight loss with calves recorded losing 25-30kgs when moved from their mothers.” She said the stress of being abruptly taken away from the mother releases hormones into the system, which cause cattle to become prone to physical illness, with the resulting reconditioning required becoming a costly and time-consuming process.
“What’s only recently being understood is that marbling in beef isn’t controlled by feedlots in the final months of feeding. It’s linked to feed quality and stress much earlier in the animal’s life. Meat tenderness is negatively affected by animals losing and gaining weight.”
Gillian said this means that low stress weaning is key to quality beef production, and that a slow more natural weaning which doesn’t break the cow/calf bond improves meat quality. “EasyWean allows weaned calves to learn herd behavior as they stay with their mothers and the herd instead of being grouped with other calves at weaning time, which can improve some aspects of temperament, plant selection, mothering ability and adaptation.”
She said weaning calves with EasyWean next to their mothers, rather than separating them into two mobs, also allows graziers to manage their land more effectively.How EasyWean works
The EasyWean ring is fitted by pushing the lugs into the nose and tightening the stainless-steel bolt and wingnut onto the septum until the ring is tight but can still move up and down easily.
“The ring not only provides a barrier to weaning but also works on the cow. When the calf tries to suckle, the spikes make the cow uncomfortable, so she moves away.” The ring needs to be left in the nose for four to six weeks. To remove it, you catch the calf, undo the wingnut and pop it out. They’re also reusable, so clean the rings, oil the bolts and they’re ready for the next season.
Mr Laurie, who runs a 500-head breeder operation on 2600 ha “Rawdon Vale”, west of Gloucester, had to abandon his usual yard weaning routine as drought prevented him from making hay and he didn’t have enough paddocks for cow-calf separation.
Hunting for options, he bought Easywean nose rings, which offer a “soft” weaning by preventing calves from suckling their mothers.
“My feeling up until then was that they were something only hobby farmers used,” Mr Laurie recalls.
He took the plunge and bought a batch of about 400 rings for that year’s calves. Those rings are still in use.
“The unexpected benefit of the rings is that the calves are as quiet as they can be,” Mr Laurie said.
“They’re much quieter than they would be even in the yard weaning system, which is hard to grasp, because in the yards you’re getting in amongst them and feeding them. I’m not sure why — maybe it’s the complete lack of stress?”
Mr Laurie hasn’t done a weight gain/loss comparison between the Easywean system and yard weaning, but his practiced observation is that the difference is negligible.
“You don’t get the weight loss that you initially get in a yard weaning system, but you’re not feeding the calves up either, so I can’t see that there’s much difference in weight gain between the two systems.”
A criticism often levelled against weaning rings, that they are labour-intensive because calves have to be caught in a crush to install the ring, and caught again to remove it, “is not our experience at all,” Mr Laurie said.
That’s helped by the fact that “Rawdon Vale” has a yard system built along principles designed by legendary US livestock behaviourist Bud Williams.
The race works so well that Mr Laurie doesn’t bother to segregate cows and calves before running them through the crush to apply or remove nose rings.
Despite the ferocious appearance of the Easywean’s punk spikes, Mr Laurie doesn’t think the spikes do much jabbing.
“It looks to me that they mostly move the teat out of the way so the calf can’t get at it,” he said.
“The calf will sometimes still get a bit of milk, but its such hard work for the calf and the cow that the calf increasingly moves to grass. That means that the weaning process isn’t drastic. It’s a steady breaking apart of of the cow-calf relationship.”
After three years, Mr Laurie is still using his original batch of rings. He estimates annual losses at around two per cent, “about the same as NLIS tags”.
“Sometimes I have calves come through that haven’t been weaned, but I don’t stress about them — they just have to do it their own way.”
“They will pine a bit, but all their mates are over it, so they quickly accept the attitude of the mob.”
“There is also an incredible difference with the cows. They don’t have any of the stress that you normally associate with weaning.”
The Easywean concept grew out of weaning practices developed in fenceless African villages, where physical separation is impossible. Instead, Africans use a range of ingenious devices for preventing calves from suckling their dams.
Mr Laurie’s experience is that the African method translates well to Australian conditions.
“We’re not going back to yard weaning,” he said. “The rings have taken away a lot of the financial and labour cost of weaning, and pretty much eliminated any animal health issues.”
“And since we started, we haven’t had to make hay.”
“Imagine my amazement when I walked into the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg last week to see a massive replica of an EasyWean NoseRing. The 1.5 m NoseRing is the main feature of South African artist, Pauline Gutter’s, current Art exhibition called Purgatorium,” says Judy Richardson of EasyWean.
With Pauline Gutter’s farming background the large sculptural piece, Purgatorium, provides the inaugural assertion of the work’s governing purgatorial theme. This work is a blown-up version of a spiked plastic nose ring that is used for the weaning of calves — an alternative to the formerly routine practice of physically separating calf and dam into different camps/paddocks.
In his essay in the catalogue of the exhibition, Professor Dirk van den Berg of the Department of History of Art and Image Studies, at the University of the Free State, explains Purgatorium as the lived endurance of stress; a temporary condition of torment and suffering. The harsh experience of withstanding and coping with anguish and uncertainty serves to foster growth towards maturity and self-reliance, advancing towards a degree of empowerment and independence. The distress of purgatory is understood through the exhibition in a full-bodied and earth-bound weaning context.
Pauline Gutter has used the EasyWean NoseRing to depict the stress that she sees in the farming communities in South Africa, as well as her own trajectory against the odds, from a Free State farming childhood to her L’Atelier residency at the Cité Internationale de Arts in Paris, and the feelings associated with her homecoming on returning to South Africa.
Judy Richardson explains that Purgatory is seen as an in-between state, and encapsulates the stress of change. It should be viewed as something positive, even inevitable. Weaning is a temporary condition of stress. Pauline’s use of EasyWean as a metaphor for managing change reflects the intensely personal and apparently contradictory process of growing through difficult life experiences. Things are often not what they seem.
“At face value, the high-tech, spikey NoseRing is the conduit to taking a calf through an essential process of weaning it off its mother. However, crucially, it allows this to happen without breaking the calf/cow bond. The motivation behind EasyWean is to remove, or at least reduce, the inevitable stress of weaning in livestock.”
“All creatures live in communion with others. To be held in the security of positive relationships – calves with cows; children to their mothers, extended families, communities and their country – is the glue that helps us navigate times of stress and uncertainty. These bonds give us the confidence to cope. As such, from an artist’s perspective, the EasyWean NoseRing is a symbol of how to positively navigate one’s journey to maturity and self-reliance.”
The use of calf creep feeders and EasyWean nose rings has helped central Queensland beef producers Wayne and Kellie Dobe lift the productivity of their breeding herd.
They run a Brahman and Brangus-cross herd on the 20,250-hectare DeSalis Station 60km west of Gumlu, and aim to grow their herd out for the export market.
They began using Easywean nose rings in 2013 and say that, combined with the use of creep feeders, the nose rings have helped them lift the fertility of their herd.
“We aim to put them in at branding and then the mothers can clean them up a bit after branding” Mr Dobe said.
“We have found it is just a lot less stress on the mothers and the calves.
“When they come through at weaning, they have already weaned themselves.
“We use a ration in the creep feeder that only the calves can access, and that helps their rumens adjust so they are straight onto the grass with no setback.”
Mr Dobe said he had noticed a marked improvement in the fertility and condition of his breeders since using the nose rings.
“Our breeders start putting on weight straight away because they are not carrying a big calf, and they also started cycling within a couple of days of the rings going in.
“So not only are our wean weights better, but our calving percentages have improved as well.”
Bill and Nikki Macqueen – written by Helen Walker QCL April 2015
DARLING Downs cattle producers Bill and Nikki Macqueen have been using EasyWean nose rings for the past 15 years and find they are invaluable to their breeding operation.
The Macqueens run 200 Angus/Wagyu breeders on their home property Murralah, near Millmerran, and on agistment country situated an hour and a half away.
The couple target the progeny onto the feedlot market, and into the live cattle market to Japan.
However it is on their agistment country that they find the nose rings most valuable.
Mr Macqueen says as they are not on-site to manage the weaning process the Easy Wean nose rings allow them to wean their calves at about four-months-of-age and stay with their mothers.
“The nose ring acts as a barrier between the calf’s mouth and the teat of the cow,” Mr Macqueen said.
“Every time the calf tries to grab a teat, the nose ring pushes it out of reach, which encourages the calf to start to fill up with grass.
“The spikes on the nose rings are there as a back-up, as the calf moves its head backwards and forwards trying to catch the teat, the spikes rub the cow’s udder and she moves away.”
The Macqueen’s remove the nose rings about six week later and educate the calves through the yards as part of their normal weaner education.
“The nose rings allow the cows to dry up their milk, and gives them time to pick up condition before winter,” he said.
“It really takes the anxiety out of weaning and makes separation process so much simpler.”
Mr Macqueen said they found using EasyWean a cost effective way to wean without the added expense of hay and silage.
They used the nose rings extensively last year during the drought as a means of keeping the cows and calves together where there was feed.
Mr Macqueen said this year with the abundance of feed on their home property they probably would not rely on the nose ring process as much, but they remain invaluable on the agistment property.
The biggest challenge facing graziers is improving the breeding performance of their cows, with the aim to get the cows back in calf within four months of calving.
A study by the MLA (CashCow project – a four year study involving 78 000 cows and 78 properties – released in 2014) showed that poor body condition of the cow before calving is one of the most significant factors affecting conception rates. The other factor is pasture quality.
The use of EasyWean noserings to wean calves can have a significant positive impact on both of these factors, says Gillian Stephens of EasyWean.
“Weaning is one of the most stressful times in both the calf and cow’s lives, with 90% of the stress of weaning being the separation factor. Weaning with a weaning device allows the calf to be weaned next to its mother. That means no weight loss for the calf, and faster recovery of body condition and reproductive capability for the cow.
“By managing the timing and reducing the stress during weaning, graziers can improve the body condition of their cows. The better the body condition of the cow post weaning and at calving, the earlier she restarts her oestrus cycle improving her chances of pregnancy,” says Gillian.
For graziers aiming to produce healthy weaner weights every 12 months, the cows will be advanced in their gestation at weaning and will calve within 2-3 months. Cow condition at calving is directly related to her chance of re-conception in a further 2-3 months, while lactating and feeding her 2-3 month old calf. By managing the timing of weaning, especially in difficult conditions such as drought, applying a weaning device gives greater flexibility on reducing the energy drain on the cow.
The importance of pasture as the driver of any beef operation is also well documented.
Pastoralists working with planned grazing principles manage for higher mob densities for shorter grazing periods, followed by longer periods of recovery for the pasture plants. The process ensures standing vegetation is grazed and trampled, liberally fertilised with dung and urine, and allowed to fully recover before the next grazing.
Splitting a herd into separate mobs of cows and calves for weaning complicates management of this process. Achieving the desired animal impact and ensuring adequate plant recovery, means that pastoralists working with planned grazing favour running one mob rather than several.
By using EasyWean noserings, cows and calves do not need to be split into separate mobs, allowing greater recovery for pastures and ultimately improved pasture quality and soil health.
The MLA’s CashCow project researcher Dr Geoffry Fordyce says “CashCow showed there were numerous factors affecting cow performance but undoubtedly the most significant was management of the body condition of the cow through nutritional management”.
With the MLA’s 2015 cattle industry projections (released 27 January 2015) indicating the Australian national herd will decline from a 35 year high of 29.3 million head, to a two decade low of 26.5 million head by the end of 2016, the need to improve breeding performance is critical.
“Management tools, such as EasyWean noserings, are available to help graziers turn their current breeders into more efficient producers. All it takes is adjusting management decisions to get the job done,” says Gillian.
For more information go to www.easywean.com.au or phone 1300 327 993.
Charlie Arnott has a simple philosophy – happy cattle produce the best beef.
To do this, his cattle graze pastures rich in grass, forbs and legume species that are free of chemicals. The cattle are also handled with the greatest of care and respect, using animal husbandry second to none. “Quite simply our cattle are happy, and as a result, our beef is the healthiest, most nutritious, clean and sustainable beef you could feed your family,” says Mr Arnott.
The Arnott family have bred and grown Shorthorn cattle at ‘Hanaminno’, Boorowa for 45 years. Michael Arnott, the great, great grandson of William Arnott, the man who started the Famous Arnott’s Biscuit Company, decided after 8 years in the Homebush biscuit factory in Sydney to break with tradition, and given his strong family ties with the bush, moved to Boorowa after a few years in Southern Queensland. His son, Charlie Arnott, took over the reins in 1997.
“Our cattle spend all their lives on our property, without the use of chemicals, vaccinations or hormones. We use organic and Biodynamic principles to manage our soils, grasses, trees and animals, ensuring that all aspects of our environment are considered in a holistic fashion, giving due consideration to the intricate relationships and balance that exists between all living things within the boundaries of our property,” says Mr Arnott.
Five years ago the Arnott’s were introduced to the practice of weaning the cattle with EasyWean noserings, when Dick Richardson took on the management of the breeders. Mr Richardson, well known as the ‘Grazing Guru’ for his insights on grazing management and the relationship between animals, farmers and the ecology, has been using noserings to wean calves for over 20 years.
Weaning with EasyWean noserings is a stress-free weaning method that fits right in with the Arnott philosophy of ensuring happy cattle.
“We put the noserings in when the calves are eight months of age and leave them on their mothers for just 4 days. We then draft them off their mothers and walk them away with the few pregnancy-tested empty cows to another block, where we then remove the noserings,” explains Mr Richardson.
Mr Arnott says “normally when weaners are taken off their mothers for the first time, they are flighty and stressed and all they want to do is get back to Mum. But by doing a gradual weaning using EasyWean noserings, the calves are given enough time to gently break the bond with Mum so they can move on to become their own mob, graze happily and put on weight.”
“It is critical if you can retain weight gain while animals are being weaned. Traditionally one can expect a weaner to lose 15kgs during the weaning process. Our cattle put on 15kgs which in the end is a 30kg benefit,” said Mr Arnott.
Mr Richardson explains “When I first used noserings, I used to put the rings in for four weeks. I later learned by accident that, with this way of weaning, four days was long enough to wean calves and that fewer calves go back to suckling or wean with difficulty if weaned inside of a week. So now we put them in for only a week. Putting them in to a mob on the Thursday, we walk the calves away on the following Monday, removing the rings anytime later that week. The additional trekking and yarding for ring removal that the calves get during the week helps break them in to people, handling and moving off dogs. This also solves the only problem we have ever had using noserings – if the nosering is left in too long, and with the animal growing through the process, the ring gets very tight eventually piercing the septum.”
The pastures at Boorowa provide a diverse mix of lush, green feed perfect to ensure happy cattle at that time of year. It includes phalaris, cocksfoot and broad leafed plants such as chickory, plantain and Patterson’s curse, providing copper and other nutrients. Clover and a number of native species such as Red, Wallaby and Kangaroo grasses as well as wild trefoil and geranium are also present.
The meat is then sold under the brand “Charlie Arnott Natural Grass Fed Beef” which has recently achieved Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System accreditation – one of the few producers to have achieved this status in Australia.
A paddock to plate approach to beef production coupled with frustration from fluctuating cattle prices prompted beef producers George and Anna Hetherington to create their Mitchell Grass Meats brands in 2007.
The Hetheringtons say their overall focus has always been to provide quality grass fed, chemical-free and flavoursome meat direct to their customers across Queensland.
They have re-established the relationship between producer and customer, which allows for the sharing of information about meat production.
“Red meat consumers are becoming increasingly discerning about the breeding and care of animals, the chemicals used and the processing standards involved in the meat supply chain,” Mrs Hetherington said. “We have also noticed a marked increase in consumer concern about the animal welfare at all stages of meat production. We have quite number of ex-vegetarians among our customers who have returned to eating meat due to our approach.
The couple generally run up to 400 breeders on their 9600ha property Muyong, near Longreach, which is predominantly undulating Mitchell grass downs country with fairly open black soil.
The western queensland couple have found crossing Angus bulls over a Grey Brahman female base is the right mix to suit their market and climate conditions. They turn off two or three-year-old cattle and aim to produce 250 to 300kg (dressed weight) carcases, which are processed in Longreach at the Australian Agricultural College.
“There are many factors involved in the eating quality of meat,” Mrs Hetherington said.
“The breed, the feed, the seasonal conditions, temperament, the processing practices, factors affecting the pH of the meat such as temperament, animal age and much more.”
The Hetheringtons source their Angus bulls from the Dance family of Dance Angus Stud at Millmerran, and regularly purchase bulls at their annual September sale.
Each year they look for early maturing two-year-old bulls with good meat cover and temperament-traits they seek for the offspring. “We look for bulls with fairly high EBVs (estimated breeding values) with marbling and the fat. Although Angus bulls can be challenged by the heat and harsher conditions in our western Queensland climate, Dance bulls throw good calves and an even line of progeny. “The poll gene I the Angus breed is very dominant, which means we seldom have to dehorn the calves.”
The Hetheringtons use Brahman cows for their breeding base due to their ability to handle the country and heat, as well as being good mothers. “The first-cross Brangus produces a solid, strong and even calf with a quiet temperament and thrives in our conditions.”
The coupe use Easy Wean weaner rings, which are screwed on to the calf’s nose at weaning time to stop it drinking milk. Calves are then returned to the paddock for a month or so with the cows. “It’s a gentler process on both the cow and the calf,” Mr Hetherington said. “This is in line with our belief that good genetics and well treated animals produce a better meat.”
We feel we are getting the best traits from both breeds, which is ideal for the style of carcase we are looking for. “We have learnt, and are still learning, much from being involved with the whole MGM process. “From bull and cow selection, weaning, through to selection for slaughter, to seeing the carcases hanging, to bagging and packing the MGM meat products, to delivery and then to receive feedback from our loyal customers.”
In order to supply meat year-round the Hetheringtons do not have a set joining period. Mr Hetherington said it gave them a change and always had cattle coming on and had a joining rate of 2 per cent.
After processing, a team of butchers at the college prepares the meat and Hetheringtons oversee the packing of orders for dispatch.
Mr Hetherington then travels thousands of kilometres to deliver meat across Queensland – with a number of stops such as Mackay, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Toowoomba, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.