cows; weaning; cattle; calves

Cattle production: Why is it necessary to wean calves?

Question: Is it necessary to wean calves or will they do it themselves?

Weaning is all about managing the cow’s body condition. At the age of 7 months, the calf can survive on grass.

If the available grass isn’t that good, as at the beginning of winter, the cow will rapidly lose condition if she still has to produce milk for the calf.

The livestock owner will only experience the effects of that late weaning when the now-skinny cow needs to calve again a few months later. Cows in bad condition struggle to calve normally, and the newborn is usually weaker after birth, or there’s very little first milk (colostrum).

So, the main reason calves need weaning is to maintain the cow’s condition, enabling her to calve normally and to give her next calf a good chance of survival.


Weaning stresses calves, but the stress is largely decreased in the case of the small-scale livestock owner because the weaned calf isn’t totally separated from its mother.

To start with, keep the calf separately at night, as many owners who milk their cows in the evening need that milk for household use. Using a nose ring while weaning the calf is very effective and the calf can stay with its mother. The nose ring is re-usable.

If calves are to be sold soon after weaning, it would be cost-effective to give them 500 g to 1 kg high-energy feed supplement per day. This will replace the milk and ensure that the calf continues growing until it is sold.

Calves that are to be retained after weaning should not get high-energy feed; instead, give them a winter lick to enhance digestion of the available dry grass.

  • This article was written by dr. Danie Odendaal from Pfizer and first appeared in Farming SA.

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