Fenceline weaning is another strategy that holds better promise for reduced stress. Stookey says a 1985 study in horses using fenceline weaning with foals on one side and the mares on the other showed less nickering and walking. It was also demonstrated in domestic elk herds in 1997. “Cattle studies show fenceline weaning reduces calling. Traditionally weaned calves called 50% more than fenceline-weaned calves. Calves were calmer than if they were completely separated. It also reduced walking and increased lying time. Fenceline weaning is superior to pasture-separated and or feedlot weaning.”
“Two-stage weaning” was also studied to determine if at weaning the calf was missing the milk or missing its mother. Plastic clips were placed in the calves’ noses that allowed them to eat grass, but not nurse, and calves were left with their mothers. Stookey says calves stayed closer to the cows for the first few days (within 10 meters of their dam), and there was an increase in grooming.
The second step was to then separate cows and calves. When separated, there no real response either. “They don’t complain when milk turns off or when mom disappears,” Stookey says. “They are already weaned. They spent four days getting weaned before separation.”
There’s a limit to how long you should leave the nose-clips in. If you leave them in too long, they depress performance compared to control calves. After about 14 days you get more “cheaters” that figure out how to flip the tags around and nurse. Stookey suggests that 3-7 days of the nose clips will get you the results you need.
If you were to rank the weaning systems, Stookey says the worst on calf stress is abrupt separation, fenceline weaning is better, and two-stage weaning is the best.