What is that thing in her nose?!
This is one of the most common questions we get from visitors at Brun Ko Farm. And I have to admit, our heifers look pretty ‘punk-rock’.
As much fun as it is to tell visitors that those nose rings are a part of the heifers’ personal style, reality is a little less enchanting. Those nose rings (called Edming weaners or suckers) actually prevent the heifers from sucking on each other’s developing udders.
Why don’t all heifers have weaners? Because not all heifers develop this bad habit.
Why did ours? Well, my theory is that in large part, it’s because some of them were raised in a group pen as calves. Sucking on things is a very natural thing for calves to do. When their bottle is empty, they turn to other objects. Gates, bottle holders, buckets, fingers, and if available fellow animals.
Generally, the habit goes away as they transition onto solid food only. Now, I really can’t explain why group raised calves seem to hold on to the habit except that they must get some sort of satisfaction from sucking on each other that they don’t get from inanimate objects. In fact one heifer can actually induce lactation or a ‘pseudo-lactation’ in the heifer that they are sucking on. So in essence, the heifer doing the sucking is eventually rewarded with ‘milk’ from the udder of the heifer they are sucking on.
Because of these rather doom and gloom side effects, we do anything and everything we can to stop the sucking behavior. These temporary orange plastic weaners are actually our first step. Let’s use 57 and 58 (two of our heifers) as an example. Let’s say that 58 has been sucking on 57’s udder. The first time (and every time) that 58 tries to suck after we give her this orange weaner, 57 should feel uncomfortable because of the bumps and spikes and kick 58 away. So basically, as long as 58 has this weaner in, she shouldn’t be able to suck on any of the others. The theory is that while these weaners won’t stay in forever, they will stay in long enough to break the habit.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case with our critters. We even tried separating the worst perpetrator of the bunch for a couple of months. 58 lived with the horse for a while. And Rusty (the horse) doesn’t take much misbehaving so our theory was that not only was she separated from her cohorts but that he would put her in her place should she try out the habit on him.
Well, that didn’t work either. So we use these rather harsh looking metal Edming weaners. They are a more permanent solution and have more 'poke' to them, eliciting a stronger response.
The first time that you put one in you do have to pierce their nose in order to do it. However it heals much like any other piercing and if you have to replace it down the road (which we will be doing this weekend :/ ) it’s not much different than changing out a pair of ear rings. Except for the restraining a 700 – 800lbs animal to do it! Normally, we would put them in a stanchion much like we do when milking them and it is very low stress for the animal and the handler both. Unfortunately, they are currently in a pasture with no access to a headlock so we are going to have to get creative with gates. IF we have an extra set of hands to run a camera I will share pictures with you next week!
Brun Ko Farm