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Reducing weaning stress, as simple as Two Steps!

Quiet Wean PicNot often do science and research result in real world applications with just a few studies.  Often, practical adaptations are made after years of study at multiple centers involving many scientists and dozens or hundreds of publications that have each built on the tiny steps of the one before it.

Often that is the case, but not always.  Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan were investigating behaviour of beef cows and stumbled across something quite extraordinary that resulted in a new understanding of how to wean calves.  After just a few projects, these researchers were able to offer a method of weaning that dramatically reduces stress for both the cow and calf, and results in healthier bigger calves for the producer.  Better still the idea has taken off across North America!

Dr. Derek Haley and Dr. Joseph Stookey, in an effort to better understand weaning, asked were calves more upset by not having milk anymore or by missing the presence of their mother.  Normally at weaning both of these are removed at the same time.  Dr. Haley was able to interrupt the normal pattern of nursing by using small lightweight flaps on the nose of the calf which prevented the calves from nursing but allowed the calves to graze and have full social and physical contact with the cow.  The nose flap allowed them to see how calves would react to having no more milk.  Incredibly they found there was almost no reaction!  Calves gave up trying to nurse within a few days although they did spend quite a bit of time close to their mother.  Haley expected that this meant calves would be more upset when separated from their mother later on.  They were in for a surprise.

After calves had worn the device for a few (4-7) days, and cows and calves were then separated there was again almost no reaction.  The researchers were shocked to discover that the calves were in effect weaned!   Once the calves were separated from their mom, they found that changes in behaviour normally associated with weaning stress were virtually eliminated.  When compared to calves weaned in the traditional way, calves bawled 95% less, walked 60% less and spent 30% more time eating.  And it not only had positive results for the calf.  Cows weaned in this way called 85% less and spend 60% less time walking compared to cows weaned in the traditional way.  This new method, which they dubbed “Two Step Weaning”, has resulted in healthier more productive cows and calves.  They also believe that it improves animal well-being which is important to both producers and consumers alike.

If you would like more detailed information or to view a video on how the nose flaps work check out quietwean.com.

 

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 22nd, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,animal handling,Animal health,Animal welfare,Beef cattle,Innovation and technology,Research,Uncategorized
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