Calves endure less stress during weaning with nose tags and two-stage weaning
“Weaning is one of the biggest stressors calves endure in their life,” says University of Saskatchewan Animal Behavior Professor Joseph Stookey. “Weaning stress to calves is probably bigger than dehorning, castrating and transporting.”
Stookey and a few of his associates wanted to explain what bothers calves more during weaning – being separated from their mothers or being without milk. The team decided to use a process called two-stage weaning to try and determine which hypothesis bothered the calves more.
Two stage weaning
The two-stage weaning process allows calves to be weaned off of milk first and then separated from their mother to reduce the acuteness of weaning stress.
For part one of the two-stage weaning, the team inserted nose tags into the calves’ nostrils as a method to withhold the milk from the calves and then observed what happened.
Stookey describes putting in a nose tag is like twisting open a plastic bread clip, saying, “They just twist a part and are quite flexible. Once one side of the tag is in one nostril just flip the other side of the tag to the other nostril, and the tag hangs from the calf’s nose.”
Stookey adds, “Nose tags serve as a physical impediment for the calf to get the teat to the mouth.”
The nose tags Stookey used for his two-stage experiment are made by the Canadian company QuietWean.
QuietWean’s nose tags are made of a lightweight plastic and are non-invasive. No piercing is required for their use.
All nose tags can also be reused numerous times, and it is highly suggested that producers wash and disinfect them before using them again.
“Taking away the milk from the calves didn’t cause any distress to the calves,” described Stookey. “When producers shut off the milk for four or five days, the calves become weaned.”
After leaving the nose tags in for four to five days, the team then separated the calves from their mothers as part two of the two-stage weaning procedure.
Stookey mentioned that once the calves were separated from their mothers, they had already been weaned and weren’t as bothered and stressed as calves that did not undergo two-stage weaning or use nose tags.
Other observations noted were the calves that used nose tags walked around less aimlessly in their pens than calves that had not underwent two-stage weaning.
The prevalence of treating sick calves for respiratory illness and having them bawl for their mothers also significantly reduced.
“The two-stage weaned calves also spent 25 percent more time at the feed bunk than traditionally weaned calves,” comments Stookey. “With every study we have done, the week after weaning the two-stage wean, calves significantly outperform the other calves.”
Producer’s using nose tags notice that calves go directly to eating hay and drinking water after being separated from their mothers.
The calves also bawled a little on and off but overall minimally when compared to traditionally weaned calves.
“Two-stage weaning replicates what we expect to see in nature,” explains Stookey. “Most mammals are programmed to know that one day, milk is going to disappear. What they’re not programmed to understand is that milk and mother disappear on the same day. That just typically doesn’t happen.”
Stookey adds that the nose tags help replicate what would happen in a natural weaning process.
“I often tell producers that they don’t have to trust me or the science about two-stage weaning. Instead, they should just do their own experiment at home,” says Stookey. “I encourage them to wean some of their calves with two-stage and some traditionally. Then put them in the same pen and watch the results.”
“They’ll be able to see with their own eyes the difference between those two groups of calves,” encourages Stookey. “Half of those calves are going to be bawling and walking around not eating, and the other half of calves that have been two-staged weaned are going to be content calves.”
“Those two-stage weaned calves are going to be eating, ruminating and resting, not bawling and aimlessly walking around the pen,” adds Stookey.