The hallmarks of the annual calf weaning – lots of bellowing, roaming of fence lines and weight loss – are disappearing on some properties, to be replaced by a ferocious-looking nose ring.
The EasyWean® nosering, distinguished by its bright orange colour and blunt spikes, was developed in South Africa to allow calves to remain in the same herd as their mother, but to stop them visiting the udder.
Not only do the ring’s spikes discomfort the dam, but the device also frustrates the calf’s ability to suck even if the cow was able to endure the jabs.
The result, according to Guyra grazier and the importer of the EasyWean concept, Brian Marshall, is cows and calves that not only do not suffer any weight loss during the weaning process – and frequently gain weight – but are better mannered cattle as a whole.
“If you want to teach your daughter how to live well in society, you’re not likely to turn her out to live with her teenage mates at 13,” Mr Marshall said.
“And the best place to bring up a heifer is also in the herd.”
The concept allows graziers to revisit some of their management strategies.
The rings has proved especially useful for those who don’t want to split their herd into breeders and weaners, like rotational graziers operating with one large mob, or drovers on the road.
It has also proven beneficial for those who use weaning to draft off cull cows and sale weaners.
In both cases, Mr Marshall said, the additional stress of sudden separation could affect the value of the cattle, either in weaner weight loss and temperament, or in discounts for dark-cutting meat.
Mr Marshall said he no longer buys “snap weaned” calves – those taken straight from mother and put on a truck.
“The premium I am prepared to pay for a well weaned calf is more than justified by the savings on weight loss, feed, fencing repairs and possible medication,” he said.
He ensures his own weaners live up to client expectation by fitting them with weaning rings for a minimum of two weeks and as long as six weeks before trucking.
The rings have proven particularly valuable for those graziers who want to avoid the growth setback that tends to go with conventional weaning practices.
Mr Marshall conducted a trial in 2004 using 104 weaners fitted with EasyWean® rings and 15 “control” animals without rings.
All the weaners were from another property about 80 kilometres from “Tara”. They were trucked to Mr Marshall’s property about a fortnight after the weaning rings were fitted to the 104 calves.
During the fortnight with their parent herd, the weaners with the rings did not gain or lose weights, while the ring-free weaners gained
weight. But on arrival at “Tara”, the calves fitted with the rings settled quickly into a grazing parttern and visibly began to gain weight, while the calves without rings mooned around the “Tara” yards and lost condition for the first few weeks.
“It’s a common observation that calves fitted with the rings will gain weight throughout the weaning process – as much as 0.75kg a day,” Mr Marshall said.
“Some may not gain weight, but they don’t lose it, either.”
Mr Marshall said some of the rings he began using in 1998 were still going strong.
Stress free and simple
EasyWean® noserings have been in use for six years at Margaret and Rob Chapman’s Wongwibinda properties “Abroi” and “Mt Harry”, and according to manager, Wade Gaddes, have proved their worth.
Mr Gaddes, pictured with the rings, runs an organically-certified beef operation on “Abroi”, and has found that any stress during weaning leaves the calves open to worm infection and other illnesses. Use of the rings makes weaning a stress-free operation.
The enterprise has also found the rings ideal for ensuring that weight gains in its Charolais-cross calves don’t slip during the weaning period.
“The first year we tried the rings, on average the calves didn’t lose any weight during the weaning process and the biggest of them had put on 20 kilograms,” Mr Gaddes said.
“We also find it useful for our replacement heifers. We pull the calls off to sell to backgrounders, but the replacements get fitted with a ring and stay with mum so they get taught to eat.”
The calves are yarded after they have gone through the weaning process, the rings removed, and the calves held in the yard for several days while they learn to eat hay and deal with human contact.
Separating calves early makes good sense
Some seasons, as with this year, early weaning is not just desirable but essential.
NSW Department of Primary Industries beef cattle officer, Ian Blackwood, Paterson, said in years where autumn pasture rapidly deteriorated, as it did this year, some quick decisions needed to be taken about the future of the herd.
“With spring/summer calves back in calf, the cows need to be nursed through the winter and calve with a fat score of 1 ½ to 2 or 2 to 2 ½ would be better, so they can join successfully from October,” he said.
“Cows eating poor pasture quality live ‘off their backs’, mobilising body fat in order to make milk for their calf. Early weaning is a cheap investment in maximising the conception rate at the next joining.”
Brian Marshall said that it was often desirable in drought to remove calves from their mothers to allow the cows to go onto a different plane of nutrition, but that there remained a role for weaning rings in minimising stress in difficult times.
“Although a two-week weaning with the rings is recommended for calves which will be removed from their mothers, even four days would have a positive effect in reducing stress,” Mr Marshall said.
Article by Matthew Cawood, The Land, June 15 2006
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