Weaning Grassfed Calves
Traditionally, a rancher who wanted to wean some calves would separate them from the herd and pour feed to them. The calves would fatten up on the grain until the rancher decided what to do with them. He/She would decide which calves needed to return to the herd, which ones he/she was going to continue to fatten up to eat, and which ones he/she would sell. With a grassfed herd, the traditional way to wean is out. One cannot wean their calves on grain and sell them as grassfed.
Therefore at Cross Creek Cattle Company, we wean differently. We still separate the calves from their mothers. In order to make the transition less stressful, they are separated by a stout metal fence. The cow and calf can still see each other and call to one another. The calves just cannot nurse. Usually by the second day the cows decide to leave their calf and go grazing in a different pasture. Sometimes a cow will decide sooner. Either way the cow knows where her calf is and she knows that it is fine.
The calves have access to plenty of water, hay, and grass. We carefully monitor the grass situation to ensure that the calves have what they need. After a week or so, we begin feeding them alfalfa pellets, which is dehydrated alfalfa grass in pellet form. Alfalfa is a high-quality grass. It is high in protein. Therefore, the calves do well on it. Unfortunately, alfalfa does not grow well in this area, which is why we choose to feed it in pellet form.
However, cows can bloat on such rich grass if their bodies are not adjusted to it slowly. We begin with 1/2 pound of alfalfa pellets per calf a day. We slowly work them up to 2 pounds a day of alfalfa. This helps to ensure that their body condition does not fall behind while they are going through the transition of weaning.
We have several pens in which to graze so that they always have a good supply of grass. We even use electric fencing to help us separate large pastures into smaller grazing fields. This ensures that all the grasses are getting eaten. Sometimes cows will selectively eat a pasture. Then a rancher has to come behind them and shred the grasses that are left. This is a waste. It is like a child who will not eat their vegetables and a parent who throws them away every evening.
Our calves look just as good as the traditionally weaned calves. They have maintained great body condition without the use of grains and other feeds. They have eaten grass in several forms: fresh in the pastures, dried in the form of hay, and dehydrated in pellets. Grass and water is really all a cow needs. It is healthier for them and for us, which is why we raise grassfed beef.