South Africa

Health Care

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Preparation of calves for weaning

Weaning time is “harvest time” on a commercial beef cattle ranch. We should do everything in our power to make this action as smooth as possible for the calves. 

Weaning process 

The weaning process, no matter which method is used, places tremendous stress on the calves. The system that is most likely to cause the least stress is the insertion of “nose rings” with the calves while staying with the cows. The nose ring makes it difficult for the calf to suckle, as it "tickles" the cow as the calf tries to suckle. After a few days, the calf will stop trying and the calf will be weaned.

The weaning process which puts the most stress on the calf, is where the calves are loaded directly from the cows and transported to an auction, feedlot or backgrounding facility. The other methods (keep calves in kraal with food and water until they stop looking for the cows, the "exchange" of cows and calves - the herds should not be within earshot of each other, calves and cows kept separately in adjoining camps - with a very good fence in between), whichever is the most practical for the specific circumstances, can also be used.

Whichever method is used, plan in advance to have everything ready to ensure a smooth weaning process.


All calves should have had at least a blackleg, botulism and anthrax vaccination before weaning, as well as the booster dose of blackleg and botulism. The calves (especially those to be kept as replacement heifers) should be vaccinated before weaning against contagious abortion (CA), with S19 or RB51. (To get the best possible protection, RB51 should be repeated twice before the heifers are mated for the first time).

There are also other vaccines that can be administered pre-weaning if the local conditions or the feedlot to which the calves are sold require it to achieve a “premium” price for the weaners. BVD, IBR and Pasteurella are probably the most important in this regard.

Trace Minerals and Vitamins

Weaning stress is probably the greatest stress to which calves will be exposed. With stress, adrenaline / cortisol is secreted which puts the immune system of calves under pressure. This can lead to calves getting sick more easily. Trace minerals play a tremendously important role in the maintenance of the immune system. The addition of injectable trace minerals during pre-weaning vaccinations can also increase the effectiveness of the vaccines. It is therefore critical that calves with pre-weaning vaccination or at least 4-6 weeks before weaning, receive an injectable trace mineral and vitamin supplement. The importance of this will be discussed in a separate article. 

Parasite control

It is important to control external parasites pre-weaning. Not only will this ensure that calves grow optimally and reduce the chances of contracting tickborne diseases, but calves should also be tick-free with sale. If calves are sold at auction, the calves can be rejected if they are not tick-free.

Selection of replacement heifers

It is important to select the heifers that will be withheld for replacement before the start of the marketing day. Remember, if selection pressure is to be placed on fertility, heifers should first be selected from cows that calved early in the calving season - without these cows skipping the previous calving season !! If possible, also withhold a little more heifers than is required to apply first-mating selection pressure.

Marking of calves

By law, calves must be branded (or tattooed) by the age of 6 months. This action can also be combined with some of the other actions such as vaccination and trace mineral supplementation to reduce handling.

Contact your local VIRBAC Technical Sales Advisor for more information on appropriate Virbac products  to use.


Contact your Virbac Technical Sales Advisor

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