• Updated Website Address: LocalBanquet.org
  • Looking Back on a Decade of Maple Innovation
  • Listening to Farmers’ Voices in the Ecosystem Services Discussion
  • Updated Website Address: LocalBanquet.org

    We've changed our website. Please update your bookmarks to LocalBanquet.org LocalBanquet.org is where you will now find the latest Local Banquet stories, a new Story of the Day update feature, features from the archives, and information on how to contribute to Local Banquet if you're interested in writing about Vermont agriculture. 

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  • Looking Back on a Decade of Maple Innovation

    Back in 2007, Local Baquet ran an article by Bonnie Hudspeth on maple innovation and production in Vermont. Since then, maple production in Vermont has tripled to 1.8 million gallons a year and innovation seems to have entered a new golden (or perhaps amber) age. We did a quick maple innovation news round up for 2018 / 2019 to help everyone keep up with the some of the trends. 

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  • Listening to Farmers’ Voices in the Ecosystem Services Discussion

    In 2015, the USDA funded a project for UVM researchers to engage in discussions with Vermont farmers about the idea of being paid for ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are things farmers do that improve the environment for everyone, a common example is grass-based farms capturing carbon in the soil as a way to combat climate change. Some services happen naturally through sustainable farming, others take more of an incentive to implement, and either way some policy makers believe that farmers shoudl be compensated for their contribution. 

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A Touching Separation

Highland cattle

Written By

Caroline Abels

Written on

November 25 , 2015

For the past eight years, calves at Greenfield Highland Beef in Greensboro and Plainfield have been permanently separated from their mothers through the process of “nose-to-nose weaning,” or “fenceline weaning.” Rather than be removed abruptly from each other, cow and calf are allowed to spend the weaning period on opposite sides of a slatted metal gate, allowing them to touch noses and smell each other before the cow invariably loses interest in her calf and the calf is comfortable on its own.

It’s a process that farm owners Janet Steward and Ray Shatney say is more humane for both calf and cow. They’ve also noticed that calves weaned in this way are bigger and healthier. Here’s how it works:

Highland calves

After seven months of being together on pasture, the calf and its mother are taken into the barnyard, where they are kept on opposite sides of a slatted metal gate. Approximately eight or nine calf-cow pairs live in the barnyard at a time. The weaning process usually takes place in the late fall or early winter, since nearly all of Greenfield Highland’s calves (about 40 new ones a year) are born in the spring.

Ray Shatney with cow

The mother cows are let onto pasture every day, but they’ll come down to the barnyard and check on their offspring three to four times a day. After the initial physical separation, the mothers do engage in the kind of bellowing that’s typical during weaning, but Janet says it’s over sooner than in conventional weaning, when cows and calves are not allowed to see each other and mothers tend to wander extensively, looking for their calf. Ray Shatney pictured.

Highland cow with calf

After 10 days or so, the mothers’ milk production begins to stop and the cows no longer actively come to visit their calves. When the calves no longer call for their mothers and are eating comfortably, they are moved onto a different pasture from their mothers. “We started fenceline weaning more as a humane decision,” Janet says, “but then we began to notice that the calves don’t lose as much weight.” She says the calves are less stressed and eat more than during conventional weaning.

It’s not clear how many other farms in Vermont practice nose-to-nose weaning, or if it’s practiced with farm animal species other than cattle. Janet learned about it at a workshop given by the American Highland Cattle Association. And Ray recalls an incident many years ago that inspired him to adopt the process: “I came home one time, had a calf in the barn down by the road, and its mother was in the middle of Route 16, trying to find it. After that we decided we didn’t want to wean ‘em on Route 16.”

—Text and photos by Caroline Abels, editor,
Vermont’s Local Banquet

About the Author

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels is the editor of Local Banquet and the founder-editor of Humaneitarian.org, a website that inspires people to buy and eat humanely raised meat.

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