QuietWean: A Low-Stress Way to Wean Calves

Published on Fri, 08/24/2018 - 3:04pm

QuietWean: A Low-Stress Way to Wean Calves

  By Steve Weisman

  Weaning calves is a stressful time for both the mother and calf, and yes even the cattle producer. You know when the time arrives by the amount of bawling and just general agitation by both cow and calf. Calves are anxious and constantly on the move and off their feed. Hardly low stress and certainly not the healthiest of situations with calves sometimes getting sick. Is it any wonder weight gain often turns to weight loss even after the weaning period is over?

There really is a simple answer to this long-time cow/calf weaning issue! Developed and manufactured in Canada, it is a low-stress two-stage weaning process using a product called QuietWean https://quietwean.com. QuietWean itself is an “anti-nursing” device placed in the nose of the nursing calves 4-7 days before the calves are separated from their cows. This device is a noninvasive nose-flap, which prevents the calves from nursing, and begins the weaning process while the calf still has the comfort of being with the cow. Is there research to support this two-step way to wean calves?

What research says
The answer is a resounding yes! Joe Stookey, PhD, is an applied animal behaviorist, and as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan he supervised Derek Haley’s research on weaning cattle, while Derek was working on his PhD.  Now a professor at the Ontario Veterinarian College at the University of Guelph, Dr. Haley developed a series of studies involving cow/calf heath and behavior before, during and after the weaning process. His work on weaning behavior was published in the Journal of Animal Science in 2006.

In one study, half of the calves were fitted with an “anti-nursing” device for 4-7 days while the control group was left unchanged. During this time (stage-one), both groups were left with their mothers, but the group wearing the anti-nursing devices were gradually being weaned away from milk. Both groups could still eat grass and any rations the producer chose to feed (even those wearing the nose paddles). After 4-7 days the nose paddles were removed (stage two) and both groups were separated from the cows. The two-stage calves vocalized 84 per cent less, walked 60 per cent less and spent 13 per cent more time lying around compared to the traditionally weaned calves. In another study, two-stage calves vocalized 97 percent less, spent 61 percent less time walking and 30 percent more time eating than the traditionally weaned calves.

Haley concluded that based on the evidence two-stage weaning offers a viable production practice that is likely to improve the welfare of both cows and calves.

Stookey goes on to explain that traditional weaning and separating the cow and calf is not natural. “Traditional weaning (which is abrupt separation) is probably the most stressful event calves will experience in their lives. The QuietWean nose-flap is such a simple system, yet so effective. The stress on the animals is greatly reduced and that leads to all sorts of benefits related to improved calf health and improved rates of gain, not to mention it is much quieter!”

Producer Alvin Barth believes in using the QuietWean system. “I would definitely recommend it because you get away from the sickness problem, the pacing and the bawling. It just works excellent.” Barth said traditionally out of the 150 calves, he would treat probably 30 for some type of respiratory infection. “Once we started using the nose paddles, we didn’t treat one. And we still don’t to this day. So, I wean them, put them in the pens and I never treat a calf! That to me means something is working.”

Barth also found it interesting that when he started using the nose paddles the calves continued to eat the hay and drink water. “At night you would go out and it was just like there wasn’t an animal in the yard. To put the paddles in is nothing. I would recommend it to anybody.”

Ron Zoreb, another producer agrees. “This year we decided to use the weaning paddles again. I like how much less stress there is. Once you take the paddles out, there is less bawling and virtually no pacing of the pen.”

Stookey adds, “Most mammals are programmed to know that one day the milk is going to disappear. What they are not programmed to understand is that milk and mother are going to disappear on the same day. This typically doesn’t happen. With this two-stage weaning and using the nose flaps, we just replicate what would happen in the start of the natural weaning process.”

Stookey then challenges producers. “You know what? You don’t have to trust me or trust science. Just do your own experiment at home. Just wean some of your calves with the two-stage and some of your calves traditionally. Just put them in the same pen, and you watch the results. You will be able to see with your own eyes the difference between those two groups of calves. Half of your calves will be bawling and walking around not eating, and the other group of calves that have been done with the two-stage weaning are going to be content calves. They are going to be eating, ruminating, resting-not bawling and not aimlessly walking around the pen. Just do your own test at home. You will see the benefits!”

The process: simple as One-Two:
1.  Insert Nose Tag
Calves wear a lightweight plastic, noninvasive nose-flap, which prevents them from nursing, but it still allows the calves to graze and have full social and physical contact with their mother. This helps prepare both cows and calves for life after weaning by effectively reducing the bond between mother and the calf.
2.  After calves have worn the anti-sucking device for 4-7 days, remove the nose-flaps and separate cows and calves as you normally would. However now there is not the usual uproar. Calves bawl less, spend less time walking in search of the mother and spend more time eating. In addition, these quiet, calm cattle are much easier on fences.

Four key benefits:
• Healthy-Producers have found that QuietWean nose tags reduce shipping fever and respiratory infections
• Efficient-Successful, low-stress weaning can be accomplished in only 4-7 days
• Beneficial-Calves weaned using QuietWean spend 25 percent more time eating, 95 percent less time bawling and pace up to 15 miles less than traditional weaning.
• Re-usable-QuietWean tags can be used again and again, making them very economical.

Becoming a customer
One way to order the QuietWean nose-flaps is by going to the QuietWean website and using the online shop with shipping taking place five days a week. Each bag contains 25 nose-flaps, and each case contains 20 bags. QuietWean can also be purchased from distributors located across Canada and the United States, along with other international countries. These can all be found under the How to Order link of the QuietWean website.