Weaning calves, what's the best method??

Calm cattle win out

27 January 2017

Shane HarrisSNAPSHOT: Shane and Claire Harris

Location: Dumbalk North, 25km south-east of Leongatha, South Gippsland, Victoria

Area: 810ha (owned and leased)

Enterprise: Angus and prime lamb breeding and cattle trading

Livestock: 2,000 cattle (600 breeders, 1,400 trade stock), 1,600 ewes, 2,000 lambs

Pasture: Ryegrass and clover

Soil: Red, grey clay and sand peat

Rainfall: 1,075mm

Weaning cattle using advanced training techniques may take time and commitment, but South Gippsland producer Shane Harris is convinced it produces the best results.

Shane and his wife Claire, of ‘Harris Farms’, took part in an MLA-supported on-farm weaning trial that compared techniques to see which were best at quietening cattle and reducing weight loss.

Claire, who is also an Agriculture Victoria beef industry extension officer, was involved in the experiment design and data collection.

Shane and Claire put 100 Angus weaners in the trial (divided into two groups of 50) and compared their traditional paddock weaning method with advanced training, a technique that relies on the use of well-trained dogs and a sound understanding of the concepts of pressure and relief.

They had previously favoured paddock weaning, as they felt it avoided some of the respiratory and pink eye issues sometimes encountered when confining cattle, but the trial proved otherwise.

Shane said at the end of the trial the two groups were "chalk and cheese".

“The paddock-weaned mob were left on good pasture and were basically untouched, while the advanced training mob were worked with dogs for half-an-hour to an hour each day,” he said.

“By the end, the paddock-weaned mob weighed about the same or slightly better, but they weren’t quiet at all.

“The advanced training mob, which was also moved through the yards and crush as part of their routine, were really quiet – you could almost touch them in the paddock.”

Shane said that ‘quietness’ was also reflected in flight speed data, with the advanced training mob recording slower times than the paddock-weaned mob after the first week.

Making changes

In the two years since the trial, Shane and Claire have embraced advanced training and now use their dogs for all their stock movements.

They have also moved away from injectable drenches to pour-ons, as they believe too many needles upset young stock.

“It’s really important that those first experiences with us are good experiences,” he said.

The heifer weaners from the trial have now had their first calves, and Shane is convinced that sound training at weaning sets the animal up for life.

“If we have to pull a heifer, we walk her down the road to the yards,” he said.

“The steers put on weight fast because they’re calm and, now word is getting out how quiet our cattle are, we’re getting more inquiry from buyers.”

Shane and Claire breed about 60 commercial bulls each year, based on Queensland and New Zealand bloodlines, with their focus on a more compact type.

“When people come to look at our bulls they’re really impressed with how easy they are to work with and their calmness,” Shane said.

“We’ve also applied the same principles to our sheep and we are seeing the same pleasing results.”

More information:

Shane and Claire Harris E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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