Creep grazing crucial for stress free weaning – Teagasc

Despite a late spring, suckler calves have performed well on the majority of beef farms, due to a good grass growing season and firm underfoot conditions.

Keeping up their performance for the remainder of the grazing season with a stress free weaning needs to be prioritised. Spring calvers are now contributing very little towards the performance of their calf.

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

  • Calves get priority access to the best quality grass which helps maintain their performance
  • With an adequate supply of quality grass, less meal is required giving a cost saving
  • Calves get used to grazing away from cows to reduce the maternal bond between cow and calf, leading to reduced stress at weaning time
  • It is cheap to operate – it can be done by installing a creep gate or by raising an electric fence wire
  • It allows you to feed calves in open troughs rather than a creep feeder. This saves on the cost of buying a creep feeder and on the amount of concentrates fed

Meal Feeding:

If you plan to sell weanlings, then it will generally pay to feed meal before sale. The response to meal feeding depends on grass supply and quality, weight, age, sex and breed.

As the maintenance requirements of young cattle are lower, the liveweight response to meal is somewhat better, especially to a low rate of meal. Calves/weanlings can convert concentrates to liveweight at a rate as high as 6 to 1.

The best chance of recovering the cost of meal is where it is fed immediately prior to sale. It is also worth remembering that buyers do not want over-fat weanlings and will discount the price.

General meal feeding guidelines are:

  • for well-muscled bull weanlings, suitable for export: 2.0-3.5kg/day
  • for other continental bull weanlings: 1.5-2.5kg/day
  • for heifer weanlings, suitable for export: up to 1.5 kg per day
  • for other continental heifer weanlings, about 1.5kg per day, and
  • for non-continental heifer weanlings: 1-1.5kg/day.

Avoid overfeeding heifer weanlings; they tend to get over fat easily. Trough feeding allows the exact quantity to be fed daily and the lower rates are fed where there is plenty of good grass available.

Best Practice when Meal Feeding:

Best suggested practice is to feed calves for at least 6 weeks pre-weaning in suitable open troughs located in an easily accessible fenced off area in the corner of the creep grazing field/paddock. Feed all calves together where they can be viewed and fed at the same time.

Ensure there is enough room for all calves to feed. Ration fed should be palatable, 15-16% Crude Protein content, fresh smelling and free of dust.

Introduce ration slowly until all calves are consuming at least 2kg of ration daily before sale – less than 2kg for heifer calves. Do not change ration, feed at the same time daily.

Weaning:

In advance of weaning, ensure all calves are TB tested, free of parasites, especially Hoose (lung worms). Calves with damaged lungs are more susceptible to Virus Pneumonia at weaning time. Wean on a gradual basis, weaning the most well grown, heaviest first.

Leave a week to ten 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, feeding at least 1kg per head per day in a well fenced, well watered field for at least another 2 weeks post weaning before sale. Weaned bull calves and heifer calves should be fed separately.

Weaned bull calves and heifer calves should be fed separately.

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

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