Low-stress weaning, also known as silent weaning or quiet weaning, is a two-step technique that has become a popular practice in the beef industry.

Joseph Stookey, a professor in the department of large animal clinical sciences at the University of Saskatchewan, crafted the flap after researching methods for lowering stress during weaning. The research led him to discover the two-step weaning process.

“It was obvious that weaning calves in two stages was easier on them and the cows,” Stookey says, “compared to traditional abrupt separation and weaning.”

But to ensure this weaning process is appropriate for your operation and that it will work effectively, there are three crucial things to remember about silent weaning.

Extra time with the calves

Stookey calls the weaning technique “two-stages” because of the time spent inserting and removing the flaps.


“We realized that it required two handlings of the calves,” Stookey says. “Once to put nose tags in and once to take them out.”

Mark Hilton, a senior technical consultant at Elanco Animal Health, says silent weaning isn’t for every operation because it does require additional time handling the cattle.

“This is not for everybody, especially people who already have great facilities,” Hilton says. “It is extra time in the chute.”

A rancher doesn’t need much to use the silent weaning flaps, just a chute to run them through to slip the flaps on. According to Hilton, one reason silent weaning is popular is because it works well for people who don’t have the best facilities for weaning calves.

“With the quiet wean flap, you run the calves through the chute on Monday, put the flaps on and then put them out on pasture,” Hilton says. “Then run them through the chute on Friday and pop the flaps off and then separate the claves.”

Stookey strongly suggests removing the flaps before or right at seven days. Leaving them in for longer than a week will create a less effective weaning environment for the calves.

“You begin to increase the incidence of lost tags and cheaters. Some calves learn how to manipulate and flip up the tags as they become looser fitting,” Stookey says. “If they lose the tags or cheat, then you are essentially weaning them the old fashion way, and you are not getting any of the benefits.”

The flaps can be used for next year’s calves as well because they are reusable. Hilton says to scrub them with a hot bucket of water and soap to get them ready for the next bunch.

Must separate immediately

According to Hilton, after the flaps are removed, the next step is to separate the calves from the dams with one hot wire – or any type of available fencing. This step is crucial for the weaning to work effectively, because it eliminates any chance for the calves to nurse.

“They will look at each other and say ‘Hey that’s my mom,’” Hilton says, “but they have already broken that bond of nursing.”

The quiet wean flaps are made of a lightweight plastic that is inserted into the nostrils of the calves. According to the Quiet Wean website, the noninvasive nose flap prevents the calf from nursing, but still allows them to graze and have physical contact with their mother.

“After about two hours, they will walk back into the pasture,” Hilton says. “Then you have literally weaned calves with one piece of hot wire.”

Hilton has done this on his own calves and client’s calves. The first time he used the weaning flaps he planned to do it with 50 calves, but because of a mistake, he received only 45 flaps.

“We had five control calves without even knowing it,” Hilton says.

Hilton was pleasantly surprised with the results and says the five calves that did not use the weaning flaps during the first week stood out like a sore thumb. They were bawling and walking the fence lines.

“You could have brought a city person out and asked which calves were different,” Hilton says. “That person would have picked out those five calves – they stuck out that much.”

Don’t forget to provide adequate nutrition

Even though the weaning flaps still allow calves to have physical contact with their mothers, nursing is not an option – the flaps prohibit it. The calves will need other avenues of nutrition.

“They will have zero milk, so you need to make sure it is good grass,” Hilton says, “and make sure water is accessible.”

Hilton even suggests graining the calves away from the cows to exercise being away from their mothers.

“It is really good to precondition calves,” Hilton says, “to wean calves on the home farm with good nutrition.”

Because the weaning flaps allow the calves to break the maternal bond before separation, it creates a low-stress environment and a place for good nutrition.

“It has become a standard husbandry practice at our university farm,” Stookey says. “Whatever age you plan to wean your calves, you will benefit from following the two-stage weaning protocol.”  end mark

Jamie Hawley

PHOTO: There are certain steps that need to be implemented in order for the silent weaning method to work correctly. Staff photo.