I’ve had my calves for 7 months. They were born in March or April. By the time calves are 6 or 7 months old they are getting about 80% of their nutrition from grass; mom’s milk is basically unnecessary. These animals nurse for emotional reasons only; it was time to break them of that. When the mama cows are able to stop producing milk after their calves are weaned, they gain weight and prep for cold winters better. At least this is what I’ve heard, so it was time to wean the calves: simple in theory, a bit more difficult in practice.
The way I chose to do the weaning is supposed to be low stress. I built a three-wire electric fence across the middle of a pasture, no calf can get under, and my cows aren’t athletic enough to jump over; there are over 9000V pumping through the hot wires so it gives a pretty good spank to whatever touches it. I know… The plan was to put the cows on one side and the calves on the other, so they can see each other, just no more nursing. Nobody is out of sight of their mother; low stress, right?
Maybe for the cattle, but not for me. It took me over a week to actually get the cows and calves to stay apart. I had to separate them 3 times, twice horseback, once on foot; drive them to their respective sides 3 times, twice horseback, once in a trailer; fix fence twice, once when they’d broken through the barb wire and found another hole elsewhere, and once because I’m still figuring out how to do electric fence. It doesn’t sound like it, but I was very, very discouraged. This was one of the first times I really came to face the fact that I have started working in an industry that I don’t have much experience in; I’d gotten a glimpse of the magnitude of my inexperience and I was floored.
I did take away something positive from this experience: there are almost no set deadlines in agriculture. Yes, planting needs to take place around a certain time, but it is ok if it’s off by a few days, or even a week; it’d be good to wean my calves in the middle of October (yes, this blog is a bit after the fact…), but it really doesn’t matter that I was a week later than I’d planned; brandings are nice to do when the calves aren’t old enough to weigh 400 pounds, but it’s ok to brand later when they are heavier. The point is there aren’t many specific due dates, just general guidelines. And this is a hard concept to grasp coming from the city, working in construction; both of which run on very specific timelines. Beginning to wrap my mind around that had to take twenty calves continually trying to reunite with their mothers, giving me the slip every chance they got, and generally irritating me to the point of screaming at them from the back of a horse. I apologized to the horse.