It is weaning time for fall calves, which means local livestock specialists with University of Missouri Extension are getting questions about proper pre- and post-weaning management.

University of Missouri Extension

“The goal of any calf management protocol before or after weaning is to reduce stress and sickness on the calf,” said Dr. Patrick Davis, livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “Making the weaning process low stress should set the calf up for optimum performance over its lifetime.”

According to Davis, pre- and post-weaning protocols can be broken into four areas: vaccination, processing, nutrition and weaning system.


A proper vaccination protocol during the weaning period will help reduce calf stress and sickness. “When developing this protocol it is important to involve a veterinarian. The veterinarian can help identify the proper vaccines and protocols that best fits your cattle operation and management style,” said Davis.

Protect cattle from these diseases and viruses: IBR, PI-3, BVD, BRSV, Pasteurella, haemophilus somnus and blackleg. Remember to also treat calves for internal and external parasites. Heifers being maintained in the herd as replacements may need to be vaccinated for Brucellosis.


Besides proper vaccinations it is important to observe calves while weaning for signs of sickness like lethargy, decreased intake, droopy ears, nasal discharge and labored breathing.

“Most of the problems will likely happen post-weaning, during the preconditioning period while the calf is dealing with the stresses of being weaned. It is important to visit with your veterinarian prior to the preconditioning period to develop a protocol and treatments that will be used if calves show sickness during this period,” said Davis.


Processing includes castration and dehorning. Do both of these procedures as soon as possible after birth and with the advice of a veterinarian. Processing also includes identification of the calf.

“I recommend using an identification that is permanent, will follow the animal for the rest of its life and will aid in record keeping,” said Davis.

Since identification (like tagging, branding and tattooing) is important for record keeping it should be given to the animal as soon as possible after birth.

“Due to recent problems with theft, cattle producers should put a farm brand on their cattle to identify their cattle,” said Davis. “Before using the farm brand the cattle producer needs to check with their state’s government agency or official to register the brand and make sure no one else in the state is using the brand.”


Producers’ nutritional concerns occur during preconditioning, the 45 to 60 day period following weaning. This time is used to get the calf over weaning stresses.

“High quality water consumption is important for the calf to eat the rest of the ration and reduce sickness,” said Davis. “The feed portion of the diet should include high quality forage and supplement.”

The forage can be hay or grass, and the supplement should be corn based with corn or soy based byproducts. If the supplement is fed daily then include a coccidiostat and ionophore at label recommended levels to reduce sickness and digestive upsets. The quality of the ration, including the nutrition components, should result in performance by the calf of 2 to 2.5 pounds gain per day during the preconditioning period.

Traditional or fenceline

Davis says the way cattle producers wean calves may influence performance and health status during the preconditioning period. California research has shown that pasture fenceline weaned calves had reduced behavioral stress and improved performance in the 10 weeks following weaning compared to pasture weaned calves that were totally separated from their dams with no contact after weaning.

A study in Ohio showed reduced incidence of BRD in fenceline weaned calves versus calves totally separated from their dams during a four-week receiving period after transportation to a new feeding facility.

“Based on the research, fenceline weaning is a strategy that reduces stress, sickness and improves performance in calves compared to traditional weaning methods,” said Davis.

The fencing used in fenceline weaning systems are barbwire overlay with woven wire, electric wire fence or an electrified wire outrigger about 10 to 15 inches on the calf side of the fence.

Fenceline weaning usually takes seven to 14 days. During this time, cattle producers need to make sure that calves have nose-to-nose contact with their dams but cannot suckle their dams. Once weaned from their dams, calves can be moved to a permanent feeding or grazing area.

More information

“Handling and management strategies of a calf at weaning time that reduces stress and sickness will make a calf more likely to perform better,” said Davis. “Plus buyers are willing to provide more incentive for these calves because the buyer knows that the calves are less likely to get sick or have a disease and perform more efficiently under their ownership.”

For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, (417) 466-3102, Andy McCorkill in Dallas County at (417) 345-7551, Dr. Patrick Davis in Cedar County at (417) 276-3313 or Logan Wallace in Howell County.  end mark

—David L. Burton is a University of Missouri Extension specialist. This originally appeared in Southwest Region News Service.