What is ‘weaning’? some triggers for management

Weaning is the physical separation of calves from the hinds so that the calves are no longer dependent on their mothers for food (milk) and security. This enables the calves and hinds to be managed separately within the farm system.

In the wild, calves are naturally weaned within their first year, but the actual timing can vary between individuals. Natural weaning seldom suits the management needs of the farming operation. Most farmers, therefore, impose active weaning management on their herds.

What do I need to consider at weaning? 

There is no firm or fixed rule about which weaning style is appropriate; wean in whatever manner and at whichever time suits the needs of your production system. However, there are certain trade-offs with each weaning style. 

You need to consider-

  • minimising calf (and dam) stress to ensure minimal disruption to calf growth and wellbeing;
  • optimising feed supply to ensure adequate nutrition;.
  • optimising condition gain (i.e. body condition score (‘BCS’) in hinds to maintain a consistent conception rate and calving date; and.
  • implementation of calf health treatments such as anthelmintics and vaccinations.

 Some targets to consider

  • Less than 1%  death rate
  • No reduction in potential post weaning growth rate

Some triggers for management

When making your decisions about when and how to wean consider the following factors

  • Hind Body Condition Score in early March – A low condition will make conception even later
  • Calf weight early March – higher weights make weaning easier
  • Feed availability and quality – weaning early helps increase your control over the feed supply
  • Introduction of supplements or specialist forages – should be introduced before weaning for maximum effect. Whilst still on mum the weaners will take up supplements quicker.
Information on best practice weaning management is available in a convenient DINZ Deer Fact sheet. Print off your own copy here >>
Pre-rut weaning is when calves and hinds are separated before the rut, usually in February-March, when the calves are 3-4 months of age.
Weaning can engender stress amongst hinds and calves, especially where poor weaning practices are employed.