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Management

Use of nose flaps gives ranchers more options for effective, low stress weaning

Written by Heather Smith Thomas
There are many ways to wean calves. Last year Andy Gray of Douglas tried a new technique – using nose flaps on the calves – to wean them.
    These plastic flaps are 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 so the calf can’t get a teat into his mouth to nurse but can still eat grass and hay or drink water.
    The cow starts to dry up, and the calf adjusts to not having milk, but he still has his mother for security and companionship. A few days later, the pair can be completely separated and the flaps removed.
Lower stress method
    Gray felt this was a good way to wean without stress to the calves or the cows.
    “We left the flaps in for a week to 10 days, then took them out and put the calves somewhere else,” he says.
    “It was also less stressful for me. They weren’t bawling or trying to get through the fences. We just ran them in, put the calves through the chute to install the nose flaps, then turned them all back out in our summer pasture. We didn’t even pay attention to them while they were being weaned. This made it a lot easier,” Gray says.
    “When we rounded them up later and took the nose flaps out, none of them were bawling, and they were definitely weaned, except for the four calves that lost their flaps,” he continues. “It was the simplest, easiest way we’ve ever weaned calves.”
    The calves then went to irrigated pasture and went right to grazing. The cows were put on another pasture.
    He planned to do it again this year, but had to change strategy because of the drought.
    “With forage conditions this dry, we weaned everything a lot earlier, and we didn’t have good pasture to wean them on. But we hope to use the nose flaps again next year. I thought they worked well – just being able to turn the pairs back out and forget about them, and then round them up again in a week to separate them,” Gray says.
Using nose flaps
    “The flaps are easy to put in and easy to remove. They are re-usable, and this is a nice advantage. The biggest thing about using this method is having the calf able to stay with its mother,” he explains. “Compared with traditional weaning methods and what we had to do this year – keeping them in a corral and breathing dust – I prefer to leave them out on the pasture.”
    Glenn Benjamin, a Colorado rancher 45 miles east of Castle Rock, has been using nose flaps for eight years, weaning about 300 calves every year.
    “We only leave the flaps in for four to five days. That’s about the time it takes for the calves to give up on trying to nurse, and the cows don’t worry so much about their calves,” says Benjamin.
    He re-uses the flaps every year.
    “We just wash them up, stick them in some Clorox, rinse that off and save them for the next year. We rarely lose any,” he says.
    The key to not losing them, he feels, is to immediately let the calf go back to its mother after you let him out of the chute, rather than standing around in the corral.
    “We open the gate and let the calves get back out rather than bunching up. It’s when they bunch up in a tight mob that they start knocking the nose flaps out. We have the gates open so the calves can work their way out of the corrals to an open area with the cows in the pasture. They run out there and start finding their moms,” he says.
    “It’s funny to watch them when they find mom and run up to her and think they’ll start sucking,” Benjamin explains. “They can’t suck on that side, so they run around to the other side, and they can’t suck there either, and the cow is wondering why the calf isn’t nursing.”
    After about five days he hauls the calves to another place, leaving the cows in the pasture. The calves go right to grazing in the new pasture and aren’t worried about their mothers.
Weaning adjustments
    “They don’t need milk anymore by that age – it was just a psychological thing. It’s interesting how, in just such a short time, they can adjust to not having milk,” Benjamin continues. “After four or five days when we actually separate them, the calves may walk around the pasture looking for the cow, but they don’t bawl. They really aren’t that worried anymore.”
    “When we wean calves from various pastures, we haul them to a central set of pens with a set of scales so we can weigh everything. When we’re there weighing and sorting, there is no bawling; it is totally quiet. I think the calves are gentler to handle because they are not upset. With traditional weaning, that first day they are nervous and running around. With this method, they are more relaxed,” says Benjamin.
    “When we take the calves off the cows and haul them to this facility, I give them their second round of shots as we take the flaps out,” he explains.
    In the reduced-stress method, Benjamin adds that he puts the flaps in just prior to removing calves for their mothers.
    “About five days before I’m going to take them off the cow, we put in the nose flaps. That’s one extra trip down the chute, but it pays off in less stress on the calf. They haven’t been stressed at all when we take the flaps out and give that second round of shots. We are running them through the chute at that time anyway to give shots, so it’s a good opportunity to take out the flaps,” he says.
    Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..