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Calf Weaning - Help!

Posted March 21, 2016, 8:16 p.m.
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Oh how I like to read, anything and everything, life to me is about learning! Knowledge is power.  I am one of world’s greatest skim readers which is fine in approximately 90% of life but when it comes to important matters, the devil is in the detail!

My knowledge of Cow’s and Calfs is limited to say the least.  My husband was born and bred on this very farm that we are now farming.  He has an awful lot of knowledge and practical experience, although it has been untouched and unused for at least twenty years.

We recently became the proud owners of our very own fold of Highland Cattle.  Not the easiest starter herd to begin with for obvious reasons…why make life easy?  I was first attracted  by their almost pre-historic looks and their easy temperaments.  That, combined with the fact that their meat is premium and has one of the lowest fat content of all meat.  I have read that the Queen has her own fold of Highlands which apparently she exclusively eats….

We have 7 cows all pregnant, 6 with a Calf at foot.  The eldest Calf is 9 months old today and we are under pressure to start to make a decision with regard to weaning.  Apparently we do have some options available to us.  Calves are usually weaned between 5 months and 10 months.  The former being the norm in commercial farming.  We could now start to wean or let nature take it’s course.  I know it’s not very commercial but we do try and do everything as naturally and ethically as we can.  We are trying to responsibly farm with the welfare of our animals paramount.  I am not a vegetarian but I would like to be in the position to eat only meat that I know has been raised responsibly.  I would rather eat less meat to achieve this.

I have read that at about 11 months the mother will start to discourage her calf from suckling or at least reduce the accessibility of milk by limiting it.  Apparently the Highland Cow when getting ready to give birth will push her calf away to allow herself to prepare for her new calf.  The Cow will start to produce colostrum a month before giving birth.  Obviously the welfare and condition of both the Cow and Calf are paramount which we closely monitor.  We know that all of our cows were put with the Bull in November so we have about 3 months to go until maybe having to make the decision to intervene and separate the Cows from their Calves.  If we take this option there are further options available.  Total separation versus partial separation where the calf can still touch her mother but unable to feed.  However it is done, stress will be felt by both the Cow and Calf and no-one seems to agree on a conclusion.

In an ideal world I would like to let nature do what nature does best but in the meantime I will continue to read all of of the literature that is available which all seem inconclusive in their findings and when the time comes make a decision with everyone’s best interests at heart.