There’s a saying in Saskatchewan “if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes”. Yesterday was the perfect example of this. It started off cool and cloudy with some flurries, then the sun broke through and warmer air seemed to move in. I was doing my morning chores, which involves feeding the ewes some grain in preparation for the upcoming breeding season. I filled up my grain cart and headed out towards the pasture. As I was leaving, the snow started to fall in big fluffy flakes. By the time I got to pasture (only 1/2 mile away) I could barely see where I was headed, but continued on towards the ewes. There was a strong wind gusting, so I headed towards some trees to feed them out of the wind. They came over and I fed the grain, and gave the guard dogs their food. This was the scene as the time, which doesn’t really do the weather justice.
I then did a quick tour around to make sure all the ewes were there and accounted for, and by the time I made it back to the ewes (about 10 minutes) the snow had stopped and blue sky was peeking out from the clouds. The rest of the day seemed to follow the same pattern, from blizzard to sunny day in a matter of moments.
It’s the time of year where cattle are coming home and calves are being weaned. For the past several years, we have been weaning our calves using Quietwean nose paddles. They were developed at the University of Saskatchewan by my MSc supervisor and one of his former PhD students. The plastic paddles are placed in the calves’ nose to try and make weaning more natural for the calves and cows. In nature, the cow would slowly run out of milk and the calf would drink less and less until neither one bothers. Then it isn’t nearly as upsetting to the animals to be seperated. These paddles allow weaning to become a similar two-step process for the animals.
We put the nose paddles in the calves at the same time we are giving them their vaccination boosters and then put the cows and calves back together. The calves can still graze or eat hay and drink water, but the nose paddle prevents them from getting access to the teats on the cow.
One thing we notice is that they all seem to pair up and stick close together right after the paddles go in. Maybe they want to be sure they won’t miss the opportunity for milk if it happens!
Here they are grazing the morning after we put the paddles in, looking quite content.
We left the cows and calves together for 5 days this year, other years we have done anything from 3 days to a week. We brought them back in, sorted cows and calves and removed the paddles in a little over 2 hours. The paddles can be removed pretty much as quickly as the calves come through the chute.
We have found that it works better if they are still grazing instead of eating hay, there is less chance to pull the paddles out of their noses. Cold weather that makes the cattle bunch up also seems to result in a few lost paddles. There always seems to be a couple calves that figure out if they hold their head just right they can still get some milk. These calves and cows are easy to pick out after the first day, because nearly everyone is else has moved on and these animals are still putting up a fuss.