This actually ties several needed parts of the farm life into one. Not a lot of details here but we touch on a lot of things. Yes the calves can be weaned at the young and tender age of 3 months but it is also time for mom to be bred again. No it is not absolutely necessary to take the young away from mom for her to breed again but if you don’t then the cow is in actuality supporting two at once. Hard on the cow. The one on the ground and the one she is carrying. Can it be done? Yes! It happens all the time with range cattle. In a lot of situations the range bull is allowed to stay with the herd full time. The calves are not weaned until they are gathered and taken to market or they are separated and put into another field totally separate from the cow. There are arguments or differences of opinions I should say supporting both plans. It can be difficult for both. And the owner. Being separated is not high on the agenda of mother or calf.
There are ties between a mother and her calf. Whether they are emotional or just physical I will leave for you to decide on your own. The mother has the stress of producing milk for a calf that is no longer there and the discomfort of the full udders that go along with it. The calf on the other hand has the stress of suddenly having to obtain all his or her nutrient needs from the environment in which it lives without mom throwing in that extra shot of vitamins and minerals a few times a day.
One of the farm practices is to immediately take the calves to market and pass the weight loss and other stress related issues that can occur on to the new owner before the weight loss. Another is for the farmer to hold on to the weaned calves allow them to settle down and learn to forage on their own, regain the weight and maybe a little more and depending on market conditions sell them at a later date. Either way there is stress that has to be dealt with by the animals and the owner as well if the animals a kept close to home. Both cow and calf are quite vocal in their complaints concerning this separation that they were not consulted on.
Now ours is not a large operation and we do not have several fields we choose from to locate mother and calf from each other. Well we do have 3 small fields but they are all bordering the yard. Everything is right here at the house so for about four days we had quite the symphony going here with two mothers calling their calves to come get this milk I am holding for you while the two calves are standing on the other side of the same fence yelling OK well bring it over hear and I will be glad to relieve the pressure! All this is taking place about 50 foot away from our porch. This is where we like to sit in the afternoon after our day is finished and relax telling each other about our respective days and what happened during them. I have never experienced it but it had to be similar to being front row at a head banging concert. Actually never experienced a concert of any kind.
As I said ours is a small operation but at least now we do have fences up so separating them was as simple as watching for the mamas to come up to the field behind the house with the calves yet in the field off to the side. Close the gate and wait for the cacophony to begin. And it did! Believe me it did. But only for about four days. For us this time it was quite simple. Not so for my dad when I was younger.
There were no fences. No way to separate them and still allow both to feed naturally so Dad had to come up with something different. The answer? A muzzle of sorts. Yep a muzzle, but different. It had to allow the calf the ability to graze grass and drink water but not to suckle the cow so it has to allow the calf to open it’s mouth but not take a teat. How do you do that?
There wasn’t any commercial varieties available that I am aware of if so dad either would not or could not afford one so he devised his own. Here is what he did. He took a piece of stiff belt such as say a conveyor belt long enough to make a circle around the calf’s muzzle but not tight enough to restrict movement. Say 6″ wide and 18 ” long. Wired the two ends together to hold it and then drilled a series of holes all the way around it that allowed him to place large nails through it but tight enough that they would not allow the nails to be pushed back out easily. Sharp end pointing out of course. He then had to make a rope harness that would hold it in place on the calf again allowing free range of movement but not enough play to come off. Once in place and securely attached when the calf decided take milk these nails would poke mom rather uncomfortably. In this case it was Mom that decided junior had had enough milk and needed to go out on his own. As I remember it worked pretty well too. I can’t say that I actually remember doing it but holding that 100 to 150 pound calf while this apparatus was put on and adjusted must have been fun too.
What is that old saying? Necessity is the mother of all invention. Lot of truth to that I think and there is a lot of this going on with small operations such as ours. You want or need it but can’t afford it so you make something that works.
As a matter of fact I just did that with a hay spear for the front of our tractor. I’ll tell you about that next maybe.
Anyway the calves are weaned more or less. I have read it takes about 30 days before it is safe to put them together again so I will wait a while. I do know one of the mothers managed to return to her calf for a couple of hours so another couple of days of complaints behind that. I was present for the break and believe me when I tell you that when she saw that open gate the latest winner of the derby would not have stood a chance of keeping up. I certainly didn’t and she beat me to it. Oh well as my oldest son has been known to say, You have to be smarter that what you have to work with. I was not.
Guess that is about it for this time. Watch for the next exciting episode in the life of a hobby farmer. If you would like more info or opinions on weaning calves there are quite a lot on the web. Check them out. As for me and mine. Separate them, insure they both have a good supply of good food and water possibly so protein supplement for the calves.
See you again in a few days.