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Sunday, August 6, 2017


By Heather Smith Thomas

 A weaning method that can be used in conjunction with early weaning, to minimize stress on the cows and calves, is 2-step weaning with nose flaps.   Mark and Della Ehlke raise registered Herefords and a few Angus near Townsend, Montana, and several years ago started installing the nose flaps when vaccinating their calves 2 weeks prior to weaning.

             “I was somewhat skeptical but I am now a believer!” Mark says.  These small plastic flaps can be easily installed with the calves restrained in a chute, and then the calves are returned to their mothers.  The flap hangs down over the nose and mouth, preventing the calf from getting a teat into his mouth to nurse, but does not hinder eating grass/hay or drinking water.

            “The calves still try—especially the first day—to nurse the cows, but I haven’t seen any of them be able to nurse with the flap,” he says.

            The calf cannot nurse, but is not emotionally upset because he’s still with his mother and has her companionship during the weaning process.  The cow starts to dry up, and the calf adjusts to not having milk.  About 5 to 7 days later the cows and calves can be completely separated from one another (and the flaps removed), and are not stressed.
            “The flaps go in easily; it’s just one more small step while the calves are in the chute.  And you have to take them out again, but we feel it is well worth it for the added benefits and health of the calf.  The cows are also less stressed.  When you do take the calves away the cows are not bawling,” he says.
“The big thing we noticed is that those calves weaned much easier.  They went right to feed, coming off the cow, with no roaming or pacing the pen perimeters,” says Ehlke.  They were already adjusted to not having milk.  If the calf still has mama for security while going through that transition, weaning is not stressful at all.

“We left the nose flaps in a little longer than the 5 days recommended by the manufacturer.  We decided a few extra days wouldn’t hurt, so we timed it with the first set of shots in the calf, to save extra handling.  We gave the pre-weaning vaccination and put the nose flaps in at the same time.  This saved one trip through the chute.  Most of our calves’ flaps are in for 10 days to 2 weeks.  Only a few flaps came out ahead of that, and we put most of those back in,” says Ehlke.  They are reusable and last many years.
When the pairs are finally separated, the calves are taken to corrals to be put on feed.  “As we were unloading the calves at the preconditioning corrals, we took the flaps out of the calves as we let them out of the trailer,” he says.  Thus there were no extra trips through the chute to deal with the nose flaps.

“There was a little bawling in the cow herd when we put the flaps in (when the calves couldn’t nurse) but when the actual weaning date came, and we took the calves away, the cows were fine with it.  We just brought them in and sorted off the calves, and the cows went right back out into the pastures.  In the past we had to hold the cows in corrals until they were past wanting to look for their calves,” he says.  This was another plus, not having to keep the cows corralled for several days.

 “The calves did better than they’d ever done before, as far as going to feed, and the weight we put on them.  This is probably the least stress on calves, even better than fenceline weaning, because they are right with their mothers.  They get a little grumpy because they can’t nurse, but they are not upset like they would be if the cow was gone,” says Ehlke.

He first heard about the nose flaps, reading in a Canadian publication about some ranchers that had tried them.  This method can revolutionize weaning for many ranchers, especially if they want low-stress weaning and are not set up for fence-line weaning.   Being able to keep the calves with the cows and have them fully weaned when you take them away, is a big plus.  Weather is always a gamble at weaning time, but this weaning method doesn’t add stress, like it would be if the calves are weaned abruptly.   

“The calves do very well, with no setback.  The gain we put on them pays for the extra time.  And with this method of weaning, we don’t have any slowdown in their gaining,” says Ehlke.  The calves go right to feed when they are pulled off the cow.

Cow Tales
The new nonfiction collection by Heather Smith Thomas
Following the success of her acclaimed nonfiction collection Horse Tales: True Stories
 from an Idaho Ranch, author Heather Smith Thomas has assembled Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch,  an entertaining and compelling lineup of autobiographical essays detailing her family’s adventures raising cattle in the challenging ranch country outside Salmon, Idaho. In the tradition of James Herriot ( "All Creatures Great and Small"), each story centers on a particular animal or aspect of animal  husbandry, offering insight into the resourcefulness required to manage a cattle herd and a heartwarming look at human-animal bonding.

“I am grateful to ... the many unique ‘cow characters’ I’ve been privileged to know,” Thomas writes. “This book is a gathering of memories about some of those special characters ... a collection of stories and recollections about a few of the many ‘cow critters’ who taught me and my family about cattle care, cattle nature, and ourselves as humans.”

Paperack/Published by The Frontier Project Inc.
Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book retailers. Retail: $24.95.
Inquiries: A.J. Mangum, (719) 237-0243, thefrontierproject@gmail.com