Lately, we’ve been talking about the life cycle of steers on our farm. So far, we’ve talked about picking up bottle calves and about their first couple of months of life. The steers’ next stop on the farm is in the weaning pen.
Like I mentioned in our first ever live video, wehaven’t 100% decided where the weaning pen will be at the new place but we’d better get it figured out because the calves will be weaned and getting too big for their hutches in a couple of weeks!
So, what is a weaning pen anyway?? A weaning pen is a small, well secured paddock where the calves learn about things like fences, friends, and sharing food at a common feed trough.
Let’s start with fences. You’d think (or at least I did) that fences are a fairly self explanatory thing. You see an object in your path, you pause, and then you turn a different direction and continue to calmly explore your new home. NOPE. Not the boys and girls we have around here! Some of them are more intuitive than others but at least 1 or 2 out of each group seems to be the ‘fence tester’. You know, the chosen one who runs FULL speed into the fence several times before they learn where the new boundaries are in their life. For this reason, we usually make the weaning pen out of cattle panels and wait for a week or two to introduce electric wire. Also, newly weaned calves can slip out under (and through!) a typical barbed wire or electric fence. So the cattle panels serve several purposes, they provide the most visible boundary that we can offer and also the most secure and kindest option. It might not feel good to run into a cattle panel but I’d say it beats getting wrapped up in barbed wire or electric fence anyday!
Next comes friends. While the calves are investigating the fences, they also begin to investigate each other! This provides some good entertainment as they sniff, head butt, and kick up their heels! Although they’ve lived next to each other and been able to see and vocalize with each other, this is the first time that they’ve been able to touch each other or otherwise enter each other's space. While they are in the weaning pen, the calves learn how to interact and work together. This is an exciting time for them as cattle are naturally herd animals and they tend to move and graze as a group.
Next comes sharing space at the feed trough. Even though cattle have a herd mentality, they can sure be ornery about their food! We always make sure to allow plenty of space for all of the calves to eat at the same time but it's a learning process for them. They've never had to share and/or compete for food before. Some of the calves are shy about coming to eat with the group while others act a little bit like hogs. In these early days, the group establishes a pecking order that tends to last for as long as the group stays the same. Luckily this doesn't take long and within a couple of days everybody knows their place and the whole group eats happily together :)
We also introduce grass and/or hay in the weaning pen. Whether it's grass or hay just depends on the season. Calves typically LOVE this!
We move calves from the weaning pen to pastures as a group, once they have learned to respect the electric fence and when we are confident that they are all eating well and everybody is getting along.
And with that, I better get busy preparing a prn for the calves we are about to wean!!
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!
Brun Ko Farm