24 October 1997

Weaning at housing = stress

SPRING-BORN calves should be housed for at least a week before separating them from their dams.

So advises Shropshire-based Signet beef specialist Ian Pritchard. "While it is a good idea to wean calves at grass some time before housing, weaning at housing is stressful, and is best delayed until after cows and calves have settled inside, usually at least a week."

Attempting to house and wean at the same time increases stress, adding to pneumonia risks.

Before weaning, calves should have easy access to a large creep area, and should be taking plenty of creep, says Mr Pritchard. "Calves can be shut into the creep area for a longer time each day, until they are separated permanently from their mothers. Cows can then be turned out to grass again where conditions are suitable, reducing over-wintering costs.

"Where May and June born calves are to be weaned, they could run with their mothers for a further month after housing and before weaning."

Besides reducing weaning stress, clipping calves backs will help cut heat stress, particularly as many animals have grown a lot of hair over the past month. Good ventilation will also help lessen the risk of muggy, disease-conducive conditions. Disease risk can also be cut by keeping home-bred and bought-in suckled calves apart.

"Do not house these together, both will expose one another to different sets of bugs."

While it is preferable to house cattle on a dry day, it is not always possible, acknowledges Mr Pritchard. "Dry cattle will sweat less at housing, but foggy, muggy conditions provide the greatest risk."

He warns against suddenly deciding to house cattle. "Ensure buildings are well prepared before housing, with sufficient bedding, and clean, running water." &#42