We've had several questions sent in about the care of our young heifers and bulls, so we thought we'd answer a few of them today. Readers wanted more information on the dehorning of animals, on when and how we "fix" our bulls, and on how long do our calves stay with their mothers.
Cyndy wanted to know why would some farmers wait to dehorn their animals until they were older when it would cause the animals more trauma. (See more from Jonathan about humane dehorning here.) These farmers are probably set in their ways, and have always dehorned all their animals at the same time each year. That was how it was here at our farm until we started having a monthly herd clinic and we found out there was a better way. Having the calves done at an early age, and doing a few at each clinic makes it a very easy, much less painful experience for the calves, and the owners—us farmers.
Terry wanted to know how and when do we castrate or "steer" our bull calves. We raise about six bull calves each year for our beef production. We have them steered by our herd veterinarian, Steve Wadsworth, when the bulls are 3 to 4 months old. I was going to ask Steve today at our monthly clinic the name of the tool he uses to do the job, but he had to leave early to answer some emergency calls and I didn't get a chance to ask him. The tool is like a large pair of crimpers or pliers, and he uses these to pinch the arteries/veins supplying blood to the testicles and to essentially cut off the blood supply so that the testicles do not develop any further. It only takes about 15 seconds, is bloodless, and we have had a 100 percent success rate. It seems much more humane that surgically removing the testicles, or banding them with a tight rubber band that will cut the blood supply. (Read more about steers on the farm here.
Finally, Camilla wanted to know how long do the calves stay with their mothers. On our farm, the calves stay with their moms for 2 to 3 days before we put them in individual calf pens in the youngstock barn. We then take over the duties of feeding the calf. There are some farms that leave the calf with the mother longer, and there are some farms that use "nurse cows" that will nurse two or three calves at a time everyday until weaning. Every farmer seems to do things just a little different, and how we manage our calf-rearing program seems to work well for us. We rarely lose a calf, and our animals are healthy and fast-growing. I do know that a calf nursing on its mother will always outgrow a calf that is bucket-fed by a person. Raising our beef animals has taught me that.
We're celebrating four years of Jonathan writing The Bovine Bugle. Check out one of his earliest reports about calving on his farm.
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