The effects of weaning beef calves in two stages on their behavior and growth rate

J Anim Sci. 2005 Sep;83(9):2205-14. doi: 10.2527/2005.8392205x.


Four trials were conducted to explore possible advantages of weaning beef calves in two stages compared with the traditional method of weaning by abrupt separation. In the two-stage treatment, calves were prevented from nursing their dam for a period (Stage 1) before their separation (Stage 2). Control calves nursed from their dams until they were separated. Calf weights and behavior were recorded before and after the separation of cows and calves. Following separation, calves weaned in two stages vocalized 96.6% less (P = 0.001) and spent 78.9% less time walking (P = 0.001), 23.0% more time eating (P = 0.001), and 24.1% more time resting (P = 0.001) than control calves. Compared with controls, two-stage calves had lower (P < 0.001) ADG when nursing was deprived (Stage 1), but greater (P < 0.001) ADG during the 7 d following separation. In Trial 3, calves weaned by the two-stage method had greater (P = 0.05) growth rates than control calves for 7 wk after separation, but no treatment effects on ADG were detected (P > 0.38) in Trials 1 and 2. Over the entire study period (before and after separation), ADG did not differ (P > 0.10) for both treatments. In Trial 4, calves weaned in two stages walked 1.3 km/d more (P < 0.05) during the 4-d period when nursing was prevented (Stage 1) and 5.8 km/d less (P < 0.05) during the 4-d period after separation than controls. Differences between treatments were the greatest in the 2 d after separation. On the first day after separation, two-stage calves walked 5.2 +/- 0.5 km/ d, whereas control calves walked 16.7 +/- 3.1 km/d. Calves weaned in two stages were less distressed than calves weaned by the traditional method of abrupt separation based on behavioral data, but overall calf ADG did not differ for either method in this study. Nutritional management of two-stage weaned calves during the nursing-deprived period should be evaluated in future research because poor pasture conditions may have decreased gains by calves weaned by the two-stage method in this study.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / instrumentation
  • Animal Husbandry / methods*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cattle / growth & development*
  • Cattle / psychology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Random Allocation
  • Time Factors
  • Weaning*
  • Weight Gain / physiology