Work on weaners pays off

08 July 2016

An MLA-funded on-farm project has found the determining factor in the success of any cattle weaning technique is maximum human and dog contact with the stock.

Martin Dunstan, Farming Systems Demonstration Project Leader at Agriculture Victoria, will discuss the outcomes of an on-farm weaning demonstration, co-funded with Agriculture Victoria, in South Gippsland at this month’s Border Beef Conference in Albury, NSW.

Six farms took part and each trialled two of the three weaning methods being assessed - paddock weaning, yard weaning and advanced training.

“By preparing weaners well, we can reduce the incidence of dark cutting due to high stress levels, minimise bruising during handling or loading, increase weight gains, reduce the need for repairs to cattle infrastructure and improve on-farm safety for stock managers," Martin said.

 “Yard weaning is generally accepted as a proven technique for improving ease of handling and the ability of cattle to handle stress.

“However, producers involved in the trial had reported mixed success and so were keen to compare a range of weaning and induction methods in a demonstration.”

Advanced training, taught in this demonstration by stock training consultant Neil McDonald, is similar to yard weaning but involves more hours of human and dog contact including familiarisation sessions with the stockyards, going into the race, through the crush and into small holding yards as well as being moved between small paddocks.

“Some producers did not want to use dogs and adapted their usual cattle moving techniques to the process," Martin said.

The results

The weaners were weighed and their flight speed from the crush measured (as an indicator of quietness) on day one, at the end of week one and again at the end of week six.

“Results showed that, at weeks one and six post-weaning, average flight speed was lower in the advanced training groups than in the yard and paddock weaned groups,” Martin said.

“There was considerable variability in the results of the demonstration, but the group concluded handling weaners more during yard weaning produces cattle that are quieter and easier to handle.”

There were no consistent weight gain benefits observed for the advanced training groups with other factors such as genetics, temperament and feed likely to impact differently on individual animals.

Martin said the take-home message from the exercise was that spending time with weaners and familiarising them with the yards, being handled and moved was a valuable investment for both home-bred and purchased weaners.

“In most commercial situations it is difficult to make decisions on temperament alone, so we have to make compromises,” he said.

More information: Martin Dunstan T: 03 5561 9903 E:

To register for the Border Beef Conference on Wednesday, 20 July, 2016 visit

For more information on weaning techniques visit MLA’s More Beef from Pastures Manual at

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