AlternateWeaningStrategies2002.doc - The Latest in...

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The Latest in Alternate Weaning Strategies Joseph M. Stookey and Derek B. Haley Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences Western College of Veterinary Medicine Cattle producers normally think of “weaning” as the time of the year when cows and calves are separated and when the chorus of bellowing and bawling begins. It represents a time of obvious stress to the cows and calves and may even add a couple of sleepless nights to the local residents. To the cow-calf producer, weaning time seems almost “natural” in the sense that it is a chore that must be done and the results and chaos that follow seem unavoidable. What we tend to forget is that the traditional way in which we wean our livestock is very far from the natural process. It is this deviation from the natural process that causes undue stress. The title of this article implies there are alternatives to the “traditional” strategy for weaning calves and they may offer improvements. It also implies that some work has been done recently that deserves some mention. In this paper we intend to review our knowledge of the weaning process, discuss the stressors associated with weaning and identify the latest weaning methods that may help alleviate some of the stress. The natural weaning process : Most birds and all mammalian species are born dependent upon one or both of their parents for protection and nourishment. For mammals, a major part of the nourishment comes in the form of rich milk and it enables the young to grow and develop at a rate superior to the growth they could obtain on strictly an adult diet. However, as a mammal grows and matures there comes a point when its dependency upon the milk for survival ends and the supply of milk from the mother ceases. The young mammal is then said to be weaned. Even among wild mammals this event is marked with some conflict between the mother and the offspring. In biology there is a well established and accepted theory of parent-offspring conflict. It refers to the selfish nature of all young to beg to try to extend parental care beyond the point needed for survival, balanced against the mother or parent’s interest of shifting their current investment towards future offspring. However, the fact that the conflict occurs does not necessarily mean the event is extremely stressful for either party. The young are simply programmed to beg and solicit food for as long as the parents will oblige and the parents are programmed to recognize the point at which the young can successfully survive on their own. In a sense mammals evolved to accept that at some point they will be denied milk from the parent. Weaning is indeed a natural process which both the parents and offspring are preconditioned to accept with a minimum amount of resistance.

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