Calf-weaning device attracts onlookers

2009-05-28T00:00:00Z Calf-weaning device attracts onlookersBy Mindy Ward Missouri Farmer Today
May 28, 2009 12:00 am  • 

Missouri Farmer Today

LINNEUS, Mo. — Dave Davis says a few heads turn when driving by the research farm as passersby stop to look at the yellow thing hanging out of a calf’s nose.

Actually, the apparatus was protruding from the nose of 157 calves at MU’s Forage System Research Center. It was part of an informal experiment of a nose-weaning device.

The device, which is made from plastic, is clipped to the partition between the animal’s nostrils to prevent access to the teat at weaning.

Inserting the device causes little discomfort to the calf because it does not pierce the septum, and the calf can still graze and drink water normally.

Davis wanted to see if there was a reduction in calf stress, as stress due to weaning has been known to cause animals to go off feed or increase their chance of illness.

In nearby Elmer, Mo., Martin Turner has been using nose-weaning devices in his operation.

“We love it,” the Macon County cattleman says. “It really cuts down on the bawling.”

TURNER, WHO weans calves close to his home, says the family endured a “regular noise train” for up to five days without the device.

Now, he finds the calves stop bawling within one day.

After visiting with producers, such as Turner, Davis and the research farm decided to put the device to the test. They found the nose-weaning device did exactly as stated.

“WE REALLY liked the way they worked,” Davis says.

“When we did pull the calves there was no bawling or anything. The cows took it worse than the calves. The calves could have cared a less.”

Davis used the plastic flap with spikes model as it is intended to cause the cow to become uncomfortable with nursing. The farm, which uses fenceline weaning, found the calves no longer paced the fence.

“They got all of that out of their system with their mommas when the thing was in their nose,” Davis says.

Rather, the calves went right on the feed.

Turner says one key to the device’s success is to have good pasture available to the calves. He found the newly weaned calves would head straight out to graze.

“They spent a lot more time eating and a lot less time bawling,” Turner says.

While the nose-weaning device may cause less stress on the calves, it makes more work for producers. Calves must run through the chute an additional time.

Davis says the research farm tried only to run calves through the chute twice — once for their first shots and to insert the nose ring and then a second time two weeks later to give boosters, take the device out and separate from the cows.

“TWO WEEKS is way too long,” he concedes.

By leaving them in two weeks, the device almost put a hole through the calf’s nose.

“I don’t think a person would ever want to do it two weeks,” Davis says. “Even a week would be pushing it.”

Turner experimented with as few as three days and as many as five. He settled on about four days as the optimum time to allow for the calf to self-wean.

However, that makes for one extra run through the chute. Turner says it is worth it.

“THEY COME off the cow and go straight to pasture with little to no bawling,” he says. “It is less stress on them and on us.”

Turner also uses a different weaning device than Davis.

His devices are adjustable, allowing them to fit the nose membrane between the nostrils. He stresses it is important to get the right fit.

Davis uses a one-size-fits-all device. Still, despite varying sizes, only three calves lost their device.

“I thought that was pretty good for using the cheap kind.”

The nose-weaning device used at MU’s research farm cost about 80 cents each. Turner’s cost $3 per unit.

However, Turner found a way to cut costs.

He partners with another cattleman to split the cost. The two share the adjustable devices since Turner weans in the spring and the other producer weans in the fall.

Both men agree the nose-weaning device appears to reduce stress on calves.

The next step for Davis is to see if the device enables calves to keep gaining.

“We are going to try to get some of the researchers on campus interested in using them on some fall weaning calves,” he says. “Hopefully, we can do some measurements to try and see if we can keep the calves growing during that weaning period.”

DAVIS SAYS feed-intake trials that can be replicated would help producers determine if the extra investment of time and cost yields any “measurable” benefits, like increased feed intake.

If the nose-weaning research proceeds, there might be more yellow noses and more heads turning at MU research facilities across the state.

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