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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Fenceline Contact Eases Weaning of Beef Calves

Livestock Update, February 2003

Mark L. Wahlberg, Extension Animal Scientist, 4-H Livestock, VA Tech

A group of scientists at the University of California just published a paper dealing with 3 years of research on different methods of weaning beef calves. In each year 100 heifer calves were used to compare 4 different methods of weaning. In each year, weaning happened in the month of May. Those methods were:

In the three years calves averaged anywhere from 203 to 228 days of age at weaning with 85% of the calves being born in a maximum of a 55-day period each year. At weaning they weighed an average of 460 pounds. Calves were maintained in their respective weaning treatment for 7 days, at which time the calves were commingled in 2 groups (50 each) on pasture until day 28 postweaning, then in 1 group (100 calves) on pasture until day 70 postweaning.

In addition to weight gain information, behavioral observations were made during the firs 7 days postweaning. Specific behaviors recorded were eating, walking or pacing, lying down, and vocalizing.

Results are in the table below.
ItemNonweaned Control Fenceline Contact, Pasture Separated, on Pasture Separated, Drylot , Precon Separated, Drylot, Not Precon
Wt Gain at 2 Weeks, Lb 44 47 30 23 20
Wt Gain at 10 Weeks, Lb 142 110 91 79 82
Time Spent Eating, % 41.1 37.3 23.7 28.9 21.5
Time Spent Walking, % 8.6 10.1 28.1 9.6 14.8
Time Spent Lying, % 22.9 23.3 16 21.9 20.6

Calves weaned and separated from their dams spent less time eating and lying down than the fenceline contact weaning group or the nonweaned control group. Behaviors of the fenceline contact group were very similar to those of the nonweaned control. Weight gain data at 2 weeks indicates significantly less weight gain for the groups which were weaned and separated. This weight gain disadvantage persisted through 10 weeks post weaning. The 17-pound advantage at 2 weeks of the fenceline weaned group versus the separated at weaning group was still present at 10 weeks postweaning.

Fenceline contact of newly weaned calves with their dams is less stressful and results in more weight gain than weaning methods whereby calves and their dams are separated by distance. The authors observed that fenceline weaned calves were relatively independent of their dams after 4 or 5 days. They walked less and ate and lay down more than the other groups of weaned calves. Weight gain advantages during the first 2 weeks post weaning persisted to 10 weeks post weaning. This appears to be a useful technique to ease calves through the relatively stressful transition period from being a nursing calf to being an independent feeder animal.

Reference: Price, E.O, J.E. Harris, R.E. Borgwardt, M.L. Sween, and J.M. Connor. 2003. Fenceline contact of beef calves with their dams at weaning reduces the negative effects of separation on behavior and growth rate. J. Anim. Sci 81:116-121.

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