Monday, August 27, 2012

Weaning calves

It’s that time of year again. Our calves were born in February and March, so now they’re around 6 months old. It’s time to wean.

We started them on creep feed back in June, and they’ve been eating hay with their mothers for a few months. They don’t know it yet, but they’re ready to be weaned.

First, we brought all the calves into the barn and left the mothers outside on the pasture.

calves in barn

Next step, over the scale and into the head gate. This is calf #3. He’s our pride and joy! Can you see the silver thing under his feet? That’s the scale. Before we caught him in the head gate, we talked him into standing still on the scale so we could weigh him.

calf 3

(By “talked him into” what I really mean is waited patiently and pushed him around a little bit so he got all four feet on the scale and was standing relatively still.) All six of the calves cooperated for the scale reasonably well. Reasonably.

Big mama jamma calf #3 weighed a whopping 658 pounds! He’s a good eater! All the other calves came in around 450-480 pounds. That’s a little more what we expect for a 6 month old Angus or Angus cross beef calf.


After the scale comes the fun part. Tattoos! Here’s calf #5, patiently waiting his turn for his ink.

calf 5 in headgate

Farmer Doc got the job of getting the calves one at a time onto the scale and into the head gate, so my father-in-law got the job of tattooing the kids. Here’s one getting tattooed right now!

ear tattooer

This tattooer is quite a bit different than the tattoo guns that are used on people. It makes a series of small puncture holes in the ear that look like this:

ear tattoo example

We change out the numbers to correspond to the number of the calf that is being tattooed. This tattooer doesn’t have any ink, it just makes small punctures.

After using the tattooer, you rub ink over the spot with the punctures. As the skin heals, the ink heals into the skin. Voila, tattoo!

ear tattoo ink

(Actually, that’s pretty similar to how a tattoo gun for people works too. I think that with the human version the ink is injected under the skin, and it all happens in one step. But it’s been a while since I got my tattoo, so I could be wrong here. Shoot – mom, if you’re reading this, what I meant to say was that I’m not a tattoo expert, so I could be wrong. Sorry for the typo!)

These calves are all registered Angus or half-Angus. Since they are registered, they need a tattoo as permanent identification. Because ear tags can fall out, get lost, or get changed, the tattoos are important so the registered animals can always be identified, no matter how many times they get sold or moved.

After everyone was labeled, we loaded the calved into the trailer and hauled them off to their new home.

calves in trailer

This time, they just went for a 10-minute drive to the pasture behind my in-laws house. We put them in a small pen with plenty of food and water overnight. The next morning they were turned out into the larger pasture.

unload calves at new home

Everyone had a long night that night. The cows were still at our house, and the calves were at my in-laws. Yes, both groups did spend some time mooing and looking for their other halves. If you’ve ever seen puppies or kittens weaned from their mothers, it’s pretty much the same thing. They go through a day or two of missing each other and moping. Then they get back to eating, sleeping, and pooping.

Weaning is a natural part of life for cows, horses, pigs, dogs, cats, and even people. Separating the cows and calves like this (instead of just in pastures next to each other) actually makes it a little easier for everyone. It’s sort of the “out of sight, out of mind” principle. I’m not saying that cows forget their babies, or that calves forget their mothers. Frankly, I don’t know. But I do know that everyone quiets down and gets used to life after weaning much more quickly and with less stress when they can’t see or hear each other mooing.

We weaned on Monday evening. Monday night was noisy. Tuesday and Tuesday night were still a bit noisy, but things started to quiet down. By Wednesday, things were pretty much back to normal around here.

And boy, am I glad!


  1. I laughed so loud when I got to the tattooing part of this post. :)
    Happy to get your perspective on the weaning process as well. I never really thought about it before and comparing to humans weaning as well. Interesting.
    Especially as a relatively new mama. :)

  2. The first day or two after weaning can be stressful for everybody, but it’s a natural part of growing up! Just like your daughter will grow up and go to school some day, it’s time for these calves to leave the nest!


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