Have you a plan in place when it comes to weaning?

By Anthony O’Connor, a Teagasc Adviser in the Galway/Clare Regional Unit

If you want to succeed in any business, then a plan is needed. The business of farming is no different.

As we head into the autumn, most suckler farms with spring-born calves will be looking to sell these weanlings in the next two months.

Therefore, it’s important for farmers to target a sale date to market their stock. Aim to have calves weaned, in good health, looking spick and span, stress free and suitable for sale on the chosen sale day.

Indeed, this point has been highlighted by Teagasc advisers at recent beef Knowledge Transfer discussion group meetings.

Creep Grazing

Grass is still plentiful on most farms and firm underfoot conditions are helping. However, spring calvers are now contributing very little towards the performance of their calves.

With many herds not planning to wean until October, creep grazing of calves ahead of the cows from now until weaning needs to be considered.

The benefits of creep grazing:
  • Calves get priority access to the best-quality grass, which helps maintain thrive;
  • With good-quality grass, less meal is required;
  • Calves get used to grazing away from their dams reducing the cow/calf bond and this leads to reduced stress for both at weaning;
  • Calves can be fed in open troughs rather than a creep feeder. This saves on the cost of buying a creep feeder.

Meal feeding

Concentrate feeding takes the setback out of weaning, reduces stress and helps maintain animal thrive.

Best suggested practice is to feed calves for at least six weeks pre-weaning in suitable open troughs where feed can be regulated. Troughs should also be located in an easily-accessed, fenced-off area in the corner of the creep grazing paddock.

It’s advisable to feed all calves together, where they can be viewed. It’s also important to ensure that there is enough room for all calves to feed.

In addition, ration fed should be palatable, 15-16% crude protein, fresh smelling and free of dust.

A fresh, clean water supply must be available at all times. It’s advisable to introduce ration slowly until all calves are consuming at least 1kg of ration daily.

Animal weight is a key factor in selling price. Well-grown bull weanlings could be fed 1.5-2.0kg each daily. However, it’s important not to over-feed calves as nobody wants to buy fat weanlings.

Weaning

In advance of weaning, ensure all calves are TB tested and free of parasites – especially hoose (lung worms). Calves with damaged lungs are more susceptible to respiratory disease at weaning time.

It’s not a good idea to wean all calves together. Wean on a gradual basis and the most well-grown, heaviest weanlings should be weaned first.

Leave a week to 10 days between weaning batches. Move the cows away from the weanlings – not vice versa.

Once weaned, continue to feed the weanlings at the same time each day in a well-watered field for at least another two weeks post-weaning. Weaned bull calves and heifer calves should be fed separately.

Dry suckler cow management

Plenty of straw with fresh, clean water for a few days post-weaning is generally good enough to dry off suckler cows.

If there are problems on your farm with mastitis, consider dry cow tubing cows.

Also remember that cows with their calves weaned will be prone to tetany for up to a week after weaning; so magnesium should be available.

In summary, when weaning, keep stress levels to a minimum. Pay attention to small details such as feed quality, trough space, feeding time and water supply.

Finally, the suggestion is to attend a few weanling sales in the coming weeks to know the value of your stock on the chosen day of sale.

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