Weaning Off Mama

Our three weanlings by a hay ring. You can see how big they are.

Cows can be so ridiculous when it comes to weaning. Many mammals are able to wean their own young without any human intervention. Domesticated cows are not such mammals. 

Most bovine mamas will let their calves continue to nurse as long as they are together and keep producing milk. Is it possible to have a calf as big as or bigger than its mama still nursing from her? Yup. Is it possible to have a mama be nursing her new calf along with the old calf? Yup. Thus, intervention is usually necessary.

We recently separated our three Longhorn calves that were born over the summer. These calves are five months old and their mothers are pregnant again. Time to cut the apron strings!

There are lots of different theories on the best way to wean. Some say that “across the fence weaning” is best. This is when the mamas can still see their calves and vice versa, but the calves can’t nurse from them. This is supposed to be less traumatic for the cows and so the mamas dry up faster. I don’t really know about all that. But, that’s what we did this time, simply because it was the easiest way to get them separated. Usually, we end up hauling calves by trailer to another pasture, and that can be a pain. 

What is a pain either way is: the noise. All the mamas and calves bawl and bawl like they’re all in terrible agony and nothing can console them. Again, it’s ridiculous. It’s especially ridiculous to me whenever they can all see each other and the calves are so big and old. I want to say to the mamas, “Get a grip! Time to move on, Ladies!” 

In my own experience, I was quite pleased when it came time to wean my son. “Finally! I have more freedom. Yipee!” That was basically how I felt. Apparently, cows don’t feel the same.

Once you keep the mamas separate for about six to eight weeks, they feel differently. By then, their milk has dried up, and they no longer miss their calves. A lot of times the calves have moved on, too, and won’t try to nurse anymore if they are reunited with their mothers. However, some of them will try. The mothers will kick them when they do.

If the mothers still have milk, like in the case with my milk cow, it is likely the calf will go back to nursing off its mama, even after being separate for so long. I’ve had this happen. That’s why I can’t bring Seven-Up back to the same pasture as Sienna until I dry her up. 

It’s also important to have good fence between the mamas and calves while weaning. We actually tried to wean four calves. One of them went through the fence back to its mama. It was the youngest and smallest. We’ll have to eventually get that calf separated again. Like the song says, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

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