Source: Stockfarm magazine

The use of the NoseRing® to wean calves is not new. It has been around since the mid-nineties and is one of the best methods producers can employ to reduce weaning stress. In the early 1990’s, Dick Richardson and Judy Vercueil from Whole Concepts were responsible for weaning some 500 calves a year on a cattle farm in the Vryburg district.

They also trained livestock producers from across Southern Africa in holistic management. They soon realised there must be a better way of reducing stress during calf weaning. And so, 27 years ago, the EasyWean® NoseRing® came into being. They wanted to simplify management, says Judy. It is much easier in terms of veld and herd management to wean a calf at foot. It only took one weaning season for the stress relief benefits of the NoseRing® to prove itself.

Producer feedback

One producer who is well aware of the myriad advantages of the NoseRing® is Leo Roets from Leoma Bovelders. Leo and his father, Leo Snr, farm near Piet Plessis in the Kalahari. They began using NoseRings® to reduce weaning shock and associated weight loss in their heifer calves, he says. They wanted their first calvers to calve down at 24 months of age. This means heifers must weigh 60% of their mature weight at the age of 14 to 15 months.

“Our replacement heifers need to keep gaining weight, but this upward curve is interrupted when calves are being weaned. We want to avoid this because in the extensive environment we farm in, it is near impossible to regain the weight lost between weaning and mating.

“Heifer calves gain between 250 and 300 g per day on our sweetveld, provided a good quality winter lick and decent winter pasture is also available. But let’s say she loses 8 kg during weaning, then you will have to keep her on the grazing a month longer so she can regain her original weight. The opposite is also true because the earlier a heifer reaches her target weight, the earlier she can be mated and enter the production line. Hence, weight loss at weaning has far-reaching implications for our system.”

Pay attention to cow weight

However, weight loss in calves during weaning is not the most vital aspect that needs managing, Leo found. Weight loss in cows ranks much higher – some cows may lose up to 40 kg while weaning their calves, which has far-reaching implications for those cows’ fertility records.

“We only make use of natural veld, which makes it difficult to regain that 40 kg in winter. Weaning on our farm is in May and calving in September, which gives us only three and a half months to make up for the 40 kg that were lost. This is simply not doable in winter without the help of expensive complimentary feed. This means the cow will not be in top condition come the calving season. And, as everyone knows, this has implications for reconception the following season.”

Weaning shock and associated weight loss can be reduced with the help of the NoseRing®. Because they wean in the first two weeks of May, a fair amount of green grass is still available. The calves fitted with NoseRings® remain with their mothers, grazing alongside them in the veld for the first ten days of weaning. They lose minimal weight and when the calves are taken away, cows still have enough time to prepare for the next calving season in September and October. Within a month post weaning, says Leo, the cows look as though they’ve been given extra feed. Table 1 shows data Leo collected during a trial in 2022 consisting of a group of 15 calves with NoseRings® and 15 without during the ten-day period. It contains a summary of the average difference in weight after the ten-day period. The calves and their mothers were weighed twice: when the NoseRings® were inserted and again upon removal.

Advantages for the cow

“To maintain an intercalving period (ICP) of 365 days, your cows need to regain condition very quickly after weaning in order to be ready for the coming calving season. However, this is no easy task if the winter veld lacks nutrients and there is no extra forage nor crop residues. Cows that maintain condition during weaning will not only save you in terms of costs, but will also reconceive quicker post calving. And the NoseRing® is very handy in this regard.”

For many producers, the NoseRing® is about relieving the stress on the calf during weaning, when in fact it is all about the cow, explains Leo. She is, after all, the factory on which the entire production system is based. For the region they farm in and to maintain an ICP of 365 days, the optimal condition score at calving is from 3,5 to 3,7, says Leo. Cows easily achieve this score without complimentary feed. They’ve been able to maintain these figures since implementing NoseRings® six years ago, despite the weather fluctuating between drier and wetter periods.

Good condition = good conception

“Heifers are bred for the first time when they are 13 to 15 months old; then they will basically calve before they are 24 months old. After that, skipping a year is not allowed. I find that NoseRings® and their stress alleviation effect during weaning contribute to heifers conceiving so early. “The real test lies in getting that first calver to reconceive in time the following year. This is when the true value of the NoseRing® comes to light. That heifer experiences minimum weaning shock and does not lose weight. As a result, she has no difficulty regaining condition and is ready to go to the bull three months later.

“Our first-calver reconception rate has been 92% the past eight or so years, which is directly attributable to our animals not losing condition. She has no trouble getting through the winter and has an optimal body condition score once the breeding period arrives, all without the need for extra forage.”

The ovum starts developing around 100 days prior to conception, explains Leo. Therefore, to guarantee that each cow’s ova are ready for fertilisation once it is time to calve, the cow must be in the best condition during the preceding 100 days. This brings you to shortly before calving, during which time the cow must have a condition score that supports the development of the ovum. It is far easier and cheaper to improve her condition score at the optimum time if she does not have a bodyweight deficit due to her weaning her calf.

“A NoseRing®, which can be used multiple times, costs around R25 – far cheaper than what a bag of feed would cost you. The NoseRing® is therefore an inexpensive tool that assists you in reaching your goals for cow productivity.”

For more information, contact Leo Roets on 082 820 6956 or Judy Vercueil on 082 459 9451 or