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Destressing Weaners

We recently weaned our yearling cattle as we were sending the main mob out into hills for the winter and we need the yearlings close to home for the market each month. Weaning is probably the wrong word as their mothers had well and truly weaned them but they still tend to stay in their family groups. There’s enough of a mob (about 50) that they got over not having their mothers around quite quickly but they’ve taken a long time to settle. Whenever anything strange happens (for example, a car drives past) they mob together and run to the corner of the paddock where they camp and it takes a long time for them to settle down and start grazing again. So we’ve been going through the process of “destressing” them.

Stress is a part of life and we’re not trying to remove all stress, just make them resilient to it, so that when something happens, they don’t get nervous. One person on foot (or on a horse) can do this. We go into the paddock and gently start walking them around. Initially they run away, but we just slowly catch up to them and ask them to walk. Eventually, they will walk steadily along a fence line and by passing them and interacting with each individual, they learn to respond to us without panic. In time they’ll start to spread out and some might even start grazing. The trick now is to get them to keep grazing while they slowly walk to new places in the paddock, particularly places they might not have grazed before.

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The less stressed the cattle feel, the more adventurous they are with their grazing, the more new plants they’ll try and more comfortable they are being away from the “safe places” in the paddock. We use the naturally calmer ones to lead the others; if a couple start grazing before the rest we’ll gently move some of the more nervous ones towards them, so that their calmness rubs off on the nervous ones. This can be a bit delicate as you don’t want the nervousness to affect the calm ones.

We also place treats (salt is the best one) in places they seem uncomfortable in, as a reward for being guided there.

The process takes a while, but with an hour or so every day, you can see results quite quickly. The lessons they learn now will stay with them right though their lives, which makes everyone’s life easier, especially as we are planning to keep a number of the heifers as future breeders.

1 comment to Destressing Weaners

  • Linda

    This was a fascinating read! I had no idea all this went into producing meat. You guys have really thought about it. Thank you :)

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