Implementing Low Stress Fence-Line Separation for Calf Weaning

Implementing Low Stress Fence-Line Separation for Calf Weaning

weaning calves

Health is the top reason why Shaw Cattle Co. of Caldwell, Idaho, has weaned all calves on green grass, and as many as possible through a fence-line-weaning system, over the past 20 years. Photo courtesy of Kim Holt.

Weaning is one of the most stressful times for cattle. You remove the source of security calves have had since birth, and change their routine. Stress is a key contributor to sickness, weight loss, and poor performance. Just as you should do in working your mature cattle, putting newly weaned calves in the least stressful environment can lead to improved performance for both the calf, and the cow, which ultimately affects your bottom line.

Fence-line weaning has been documented for several years to provide an applicable method of low stress weaning on cattle operations. Research performed at New Mexico State highlighted that calves who were fence-line weaned showed increases in weight gain after two weeks, persistence in eating, and time of rest while decreasing the number of vocalizations and time spent walking. During the 2006 and 2007 study, seven-day post weaning gain was positive at 16 lbs. and 4 lbs. respectively with minimal outward signs of stress. Studies conducted at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), and University of Idaho show that calves weaned while remaining in ear- and eye sight of their dams are, on average, 20 to 25 pounds (lb.) heavier after 10 weeks than calves that are physically removed from the ranch.

Fence-line weaning isn’t practical on all ranches. In some situations, your facility may not have the optimum set up to adequately wean with direct nose-to-nose contact. However, there are other proven practices that can be implemented to reduce calf stress at weaning.

Provide calves access to the weaning area (pen, trap or pasture) a week or two prior to weaning, so calves do not undergo the stress of a complete change in environment. At the time of weaning, move your cows to a new location during separation; but don’t move the calves. Mature cattle that have been more frequently exposed to changes in surroundings are less prone to the onset of stress. It’s also important to place the calves in your best paddock or lot, try to avoid a dusty holding area where they are susceptible to respiratory diseases.  Allow fence-line contact between calf and dam for approximately four to seven days following weaning. Your fences should be sturdy enough for proper separation and still allow nose-to-nose contact while preventing nursing. The most effective fence material is net wire with the optional strand of stand-off electrical wire. Barbed wire fences can be used, but may present problems in some circumstances where calves are persistent in re-connecting with their mother. Electrical fencing takes the most preparation and preconditioning. One to two weeks of electrical fence exposure should provide adequate preparation. If fence-line contact isn’t practical, move cows far enough away to limit the exposure to the balling calves .

If you must wean in a dry lot paddock, place your feed bunks, hay and water troughs along the fence to reduce perimeter walking, and to increase encounters with their feed and water. If calves are weaned in a pasture, place feed and water along the fence-line where practical to increase the likelihood that calves will find feed and water within the first few hours. Placing large water troughs inside the pen and letting water troughs overflow slightly may attract calves to the water, and help calves that are accustomed to drinking from live water sources adjust to troughs, and the sounds of an activated float. Unnecessary stress caused by castrating, dehorning or branding calves should be avoided if possible. These practices should be completed several weeks before weaning, and preferably prior to three months of age.

Implementing a low stress weaning program on your farm should fit your operation. Explore different ways to cut the instance of stress on both your animals and you. Examine other operations and discuss with fellow cattlemen ideas they have used to improve performance. Some investment in improved weaning facilities can save you time and money in the long run.

cattle grazing

Cattle grazing pasture. Photo credit: Nick Simmons, UF/IFAS Extension


Price, E.O., J.E. Harris, R.E. Borgwardt, M.L. Sween, J.M. Connor. 2003. Fenceline contact of beef calves with their dams at weaning reduced the negative effects of separation on behavior and growth rate. J Anim Sci 81: 116-121

P Mathis, C & , Pas & H Cox, S & Löest, C.A. & Petersen, M & Mulliniks, John. (2009). Pasture Preconditioning Calves at a Higher Rate of Gain Improves Feedlot Health but Not Postweaning Profit. The Professional Animal Scientist. 25. 475-480.

Pirelli, G., and W. A. Zollinger. 2002. Weaning management for calves. CL 748, Cow-Calf Management Guide and Cattle Producer’s Library. Ag Communications, University of Idaho.

Preconditioning Calves Using Co-products, Hersom, M., Thrift, T., Yelich, J.

NFREC Heifer Development Field Day – January 10

Group of cattle producers learning about CIDR for AI with lady talking.

Chute-side demonstrations for cattle producers at the 2018 field day. Photo Credit: Pete Vergot

The replacement of subfertile cows in a cow/calf operation comes at a tremendous cost. Successfully managing replacement heifers the first two years of their life can play a role in their lifetime productivity, and should be a priority for all herdsmen.

A heifer development field day will be hosted at the North Florida Research and Education Center on January 10, 2019, with registration beginning at 8:30 and the program kicking off at 9:00 AM CST. Lunch will be sponsored by Zoetis and be served at noon.

Dystocia Simulator that will be at the field day. Photo Credit: Veterinary Simulator Industries

The 2019 heifer field day that will feature topics that are focused on replacement heifer development and management. A highlight of this year’s event will surely be the interactive calving simulator that will allow participants the opportunity to work through dystocia situations (calving difficulties) in a life-like model. Those who attend the field day will have the opportunity to practice pulling calves that are in abnormal presentations and positions and the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience in dealing with dystocia.

In addition to the field day, a preview of the bulls that will be sold at the 2019 Florida Bull Test Sale will be held. Starting at 1:00 PM, all prospective buyers will have the opportunity to see the bulls that have been consigned to the sale on January 19th.


Northwest Florida Beef Conference & Trade Show – February 13

Northwest Florida Beef Conference & Trade Show – February 13

Mark your new 2019 calendar!  Cattle ranchers from the Tri-state Region (FL, AL, GA) are invited to attend the 34th annual Northwest Florida Beef Conference and Trade Show, to be held on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 in Marianna, Florida.  The Conference will be held at the Jackson County Extension Office, located at 2741 Penn Avenue, Marianna, Florida. There will be a $5 per person registration fee, payable at the door.  Registration and the Trade Show open at 7:30 AM central time, the program starts at 8:15 AM, and concludes with a steak lunch.

2019 Focus:  Rebuilding for a Better Future

 Beef Confernce Crowd

The 2019 program will focus on Rebuilding for a Better Future with speakers providing ideas on improving income and restoring or improving productivity. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS

The Tri-state area was hammered by Hurricane Michael, so cattle producers in the region were really challenged in 2018.  Because of this, the 2019 Beef Conference educational program will focus on Rebuilding for a Better Future, with speakers providing ideas on improving income and restoring or even improving productivity.   Jared Decker, Beef Genetics Extension Specialist, University of Missouri will be the keynote speaker. He will discuss genomic-enhanced EPDs and EPD Indexes to help producers make effective choices to improve the genetics of their herd.  Other topics will focus on improving overall income sources, such supplemental income sources, adding value to cattle and hay sold, and rebuilding operations better than before the storm.  More details of the specific topics and speakers will be provided, once the complete program is set.

Trade Show

18 Beef Conference Trade Show

The Beef Conference will also feature a Trade Show of businesses and agencies that offer goods and services to cattle producers. Credit Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS

In addition to the educational program, the Beef Conference will also feature a Trade Show of businesses and agencies that offer goods and services to cattle producers. There will be time allotted on the schedule to visit with the company representatives to learn about specific products and services they offer for cattle producers in this region. The program will have designated times for ranchers to visit with the Trade Show Exhibitors:  45 minutes during registration, 45 minutes in the middle of the program, and 1 hour immediately after lunch is served.

If you are interested in participating in the as an exhibitor/sponsor, utilize the Trade Show Eventbrite Registration website .  You will be entering the required information online and paying in one simple step.  No other action required. Registration deadline is Friday, February 8.

Trade Show booth at the Northwest Florida Beef Conference.

The Northwest Florida Beef Conference and Trade Show is an educational program provided by the UF/IFAS Panhandle Agriculture Extension Team. For more information on the Beef Conference, or participating in the Trade Show as an exhibitor, contact Doug Mayo, at 850-482-9620.

Friday Feature: Knickers the Giant 6’4″ Australian Steer

Friday Feature: Knickers the Giant 6’4″ Australian Steer

This week’s featured video was published by Today Tonight to share the story of Knickers, the giant 6’4″ tall, 3,000 pound Australian steer that has become a social media sensation.  Knickers is used as a “Coach” or lead steer for a stocker cattle operation in Australia.  While he is not quite large enough to break the world record (6’7″), his story is pretty interesting.  Check out the video!


If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across an interesting or humorous video, or a new product innovation related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo

Hurricane Michael Agricultural Damage Assessment and Economic Impacts

Hurricane Michael Agricultural Damage Assessment and Economic Impacts

Hurricane Michael Credit: NOAA

Estimated Agriculture Impact of Hurricane MichaelOctober 10, 2018 will be a date that farmers and ranchers in the Central Panhandle of Florida will never forget as long as they live.  Hurricane Michael landed in Bay County with 155 mph winds (Category 5 = 157 mph), the most powerful winds since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, ripped through a mostly rural area of Florida that received immediate media attention for extensive damage to the coastal communities in Bay County.  What was not made as known was the extensive damage this storm caused to agricultural operations that are a critical part of the economy of the rural counties along the I-10 corridor and into Southwest Georgia.

Typically a hurricane weakens soon after it comes ashore, but this storm had measured wind speeds of 115 mph all the way up into Donalsonville, Georgia.  This area of Florida and Southwest Georgia has been spared from major hurricanes since the 1850s, so huge, 50-150 year-old trees were snapped off, twisted, or blown over onto homes, barns, fences, grain bins and other structures.  So even structures that could withstand the winds were crushed by huge trees.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department, Florida Forest Service, and the National Agriculture Statistics Service, and Dr. Sergio Alvarez, University of Central Florida compiled a summary of estimated damages and loses to farms and ranches in the Florida Panhandle due to Hurricane Micheal.

Timber is a major industry in this part of the state and took the biggest hit with an estimated $1.3 billion loss.

Timber destroyed

Timber destroyed on a farm in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo UF/IFAS

Cotton was virtually unharvested when the storm hit and was mostly destroyed.  What had promised to be one of the best cotton crops ever, was either blown off the plants, or the whole plant was flattened and will be nearly impossible to harvest.

Cotton blown off by storm

Jackson County cotton on the left was defoliated and ready for harvest, but was blown off by the storm. To the right a small section that had been harvested and was averaging 1900 lbs./acre. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS

Immature cotton flattend by hurricane winds

Cotton that was still immature with closed bolls was flattend by the torrential winds in Jackson Cunty. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS

Cattle ranches had miles of fences damage.  Many ranches utilized fence rows for pasture shade, but these trees blew over and took fences out leaving gaping holes that could not be repaired without using heavy equipment to remove the downed trees.  Volunteers from the Florida Cattlemen’s Association spent three weeks in the area to help local producers get highway fences patched to keep cattle from wandering on to highways.

Florida Cattlemens Assocaiton sent volunteers who brought heavy equipment to help local ranchers patch gaping holes caused by downed trees in Jackson County. Credit: Dough Mayo, UF/IFAS

Center pivot irrigation systems, equipment barns, hay barns and grain bins that were not built to withstand category 3 hurricane winds were mangled, damaged or destroyed.

Center Pivot destoryed in Jackson County

Center Pivot destroyed in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS


Equipment barn destroyed in Jackson County

Equipment barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Jackson County. Credit: Doug Mayo


Jackson County hay barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael

Jackson County hay barn destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Creidt; Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS

These are just a few of the tragic images from a devastating hurricane.  The following chart shares the estimates made by a team of UF/IFAS County Agents who interviewed farmers in Jackson County in October to develop damage estimates to this major agricultural county.

Ag Damage Estiamtes from Hurricane Michael in Jackson County

Source: UF/IFAS Damage Assessment Team


In the end it will take months just to get all of the debris pilled up to burn, and years to recover from the lost income, and to repair or replace damaged or destroyed fences, center pivots, barns, and homes lost in a matter of four hours.  While USDA does have disaster programs to assist with hurricane damaged fences, debris removal, lost livestock, and timber replanting, the only hope for restoring some portion of the lost income needed to keep farm business going is action by Congress similar to the WHIP Program developed for areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  But this previous program did not cover timber losses. It will be essential for local farmers to utilize agricultural organizations such as Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the Florida Forestry Association to work with federal representatives to get help for producers in this region that also includes timber losses.  Otherwise many farm businesses in the Panhandle may never fully recover from this devastating storm.

Read the FDACS and Georgia storm damage reports:
FDACS Hurricane Michael Agriculture Damage Assessment Report

Facing the Storm (Hurricane Michael impact on Georgia farms)


Gadsden County Certified Pile Burner Course – December 10

Gadsden County Certified Pile Burner Course – December 10

In response to the large amount of storm debris from Hurricane Michael, the Florida Forest Service and the University of Florida Gadsden County Extension Service will be offering a Certified Pile Burner Course in Quincy, Florida. Normally this course includes a $50 per person registration fee, but the fee has been waived to assist with storm recovery.  For the next several months, because of the risk of wildfires and the challenge of private property access, only certified pile burners will be issued commercial permits in the primary impact region of Hurricane Michael.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Class size will be limited, so register early.  This course will show you how to burn piles legally, safely, and efficiently. This training will be held from 8:30 am till 4:30 pm at the North Florida Research & Education Center, 155 Research Rd, Quincy, Florida.

There will be a test at the end of the session. You must receive a grade of 70% or higher on the exam to pass the course.  After passing the course, you will need to demonstrate a proper pile burn with approval from your local Florida Forest Service (FFS) office to become certified.

Florida’s Certified Pile Burner Training Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why should I be a certified pile burner?
A: Certified pile burners are trained to burn piles legally, safely and efficiently. Most importantly, it could save a life. Also, when the weather is dry, certified pile burners will receive priority for authorization to burn by the Florida Forest Service (FFS). Also, certified pile burners are allowed to burn up to two hours longer per day and get multiple day authorizations.

Q: What is a Pile Burner Customer Number?
A: When you call the FFS for an authorization to burn, you will be assigned a personal customer number.  This number references your information, so it doesn’t need to be gathered each time you call for an authorization. You must have your individual FFS customer number in order to be certified.

Q: Is there a test?
A: Yes, the test is 20 questions and open-book. You must receive a score of at least 70% to pass.

Q: What if I don’t pass?
A: Very few people fail the test but if you do, you will be provided another opportunity to take the test at a later date. If you fail the second time, you must re-register and take the training again.

Q: Why do you ask for my email on the application form?
A: Email is the fastest and most convenient method to inform registrants of their registration status. If no email address is provided, then all correspondence will be sent through the federal mail. This can take several days to relay messages, and this may not be practical if changes are made to the course schedule or for last minute registrations.

Q: Is there a cost for the training?
A: No. This is a special class in response to Hurricane Michael, the traditional $50 fee has been waived for these courses.

Q: How long does my certification last, and how long do I have to complete the certification from the time I finish the class?
A: As long as the person with the certification uses their number at least 5 times in a period of 5 years their certification will not expire under the current program. You MUST complete the certification burn within a year of taking the class.

Q: Will certified burners be notified if their certification expires?
A: Yes, notification will be sent out to them to let them know of their upcoming certification expiration date.

Q: Will I be certified at the end of the one-day training?
A: No, you will need to follow the written instructions that you will receive from the FFS to become certified. You will need to complete a simple burn plan, have it reviewed and approved locally by the FFS and also have the burn itself reviewed and approved by the FFS.

Q: Is there a minimum age to be a certified pile burner?
A: Yes, you must be at least 18 years old to take the test and be a certified pile burner.

Quincy Pile Burner Certification Course Registration Packet


For more information, contact: 

Florida Forest Service
Sabrina Willey