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What Happens if You Don't Wean Calves?

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Your cow will carry her unborn calf for 9 months before she gives birth. After the calf is born, he spends the first few months of his life receiving all of his necessary nutrition from his mother's milk. Once a calf reaches 6 months of age, he will begin eating forages and grains. Your calf should be completely weaned off his mother by the time he is 10 months old.

Weaning Calves in a Cattle Operation

All calves eventually have to be weaned from their mothers. In a modern cattle operation, weaning will take place when the calves are between 6 and 10 months old. Most cattle breeding operations will wean their calves in the fall, separating calves from their mothers forcibly and then placing all the calves in one field or pasture together. The calves are physically prevented from returning to their mothers and, since they are old enough to consume regular feeds, they tend to adjust pretty quickly to the new routine.

Weaning Calves Naturally

In nature, a mother cow will decide when to wean her calf. If left to their own devices, most cows will wean their yearling calves shortly before a new calf is born. The mother instinctively knows she cannot care for two calves at the same time, so she physically prevents the older calf from nursing. The cow prevents the calf from nursing by biting or kicking him when he tries to nurse. Calves catch on relatively quickly and stop trying to nurse while still remaining within the herd.

The Unweaned Calf

It's the cow's job to wean her calf, but some first-time mothers may be reluctant or unwilling to do so. That's when you'll have to step in and help the process along. This is more likely to happen if the cow wasn't bred again and isn't expecting a new calf.

If an older calf continues nursing, the mother and the calf both might wind up in poor physical condition due to her inability to provide adequate nutrition through her milk. A calf can suck all the nutrition out of your cow, leaving the cow weak and underfed while the calf continues to require more and more milk to grow. On the other hand, if the cow doesn't provide enough milk for the growing calf, the calf can become malnourished and stunted.

If you believe that a physical or medical problem is preventing your calf from being weaned, contact your veterinarian for an evaluation of your cow and calf.

Weaning Your Calf

If your calf is more than 10 months old, it's time for you to wean him. You'll have to separate your cow and your calf from one another, completely removing them from one another's sight. Make sure your fences are sturdy enough to prevent your calf from breaking out and attempting to rejoin his mother.