Cessation of its mother’s milk, changes in diet and increased herd size combine to represent a new range of stressors for a young calf. These are often, but not always, accompanied by routine husbandry procedures such as castration, dehorning, ear tagging and branding.
A lifelong animal health program starts at weaning, but depends on a risk assessment and your biosecurity plan. Some disease threats are regionally specific such as botulism, tick fever and ephemeral fever. Others, such as tetanus, are ubiquitous.
Recommendations to improve animal health include:
- protecting against clostridial diseases using a 5-in-1 vaccination
- drenching for worms and other internal parasites in high rainfall zones
- monitoring for scours and faecal egg counts
- monitoring general health and the need for vaccinations against diseases specific to the herd/property.
It’s important to maintain animal welfare throughout the weaning process by minimising stress and recognising early signs of distress and disease.
Strategies to improve animal welfare include:
- the provision of good feed, clean water, shade and wind shelter in cold regions
- keeping calves confined in secure yards, but always avoiding overcrowding
- releasing and tailing weaners daily, yarding them again each night – repeat for several days prior to permanent release
- if trucking to another property/paddock, ensuring weaners are well nourished prior to release – newly weaned calves are very prone to plant poisoning in strange environments (check out the Is the animal fit to load? guide at mla.com.au/isitfittoload)
- if transporting, animal husbandry procedures such as castrating and dehorning should be performed at the property of destination, unless done six weeks prior to weaning.