Factors to consider this winter in order to achieve a margin from your weanlings

With the weather well and truly ‘broke’ at this stage, the time for housing cattle on many farms has arrived.

Over the past few weeks, many farmers have started to house finishing stock predominately, with lighter stock being left out to graze what grass supplies are left.

However, as we edge closer to November, attentions will turn to fully house all stock and particular attention needs to be paid to the management of weanlings.

The management of weanlings over the winter is a very important factor in achieving a margin from these cattle, regardless of whether you choose to sell them in the spring or put them out to grass again.

According to Teagasc, the target weight gain for weanlings over the winter is 0.6kg/head/day. Over a 150-day winter, this amounts to 90kg of weight gain.

In many cases, this target is not met on farms, according to Teagasc drystock advisor, Donal McCabe.

To ensure your weanlings thrive well this coming winter period, Donal offers this advice.

He explains: “Unless you are feeding very high-quality silage, most weanlings require at least some supplementation with concentrates over the winter.

It is important to test your silage and feed the quantity of concentrates based on the results. Weanlings require 13-14% crude protein in their diet.

“Crude protein results from grass silage analysis are regularly <12% protein; therefore, this needs to be balanced with concentrates, with a 16% crude protein content.

“Adequate protein is essential for the growth in ‘frame’ of the weanling. It is important to know how much meal you are feeding. A typical ‘lick’ bucket contains approximately 11.5kg of nuts or 9kg of meal [water level measure].

“Typically, weanlings will require 1-2kg of concentrates/head/day to reach the 0.6kg/head/day target.”

Ventilation

On the topic of ventilation, Donal said: “Many farmers undervalue the critical role that good ventilation in their cattle housing plays in achieving good animal performance.

A good movement of air throughout the shed will help keep cattle healthy, which allows them to thrive.

“If alterations have to be made to improve air circulation around the shed then it should be done prior to housing.”

Access to clean water

On the importance of weanlings having access to fresh, clean water, Donal noted: “It’s important to clean water troughs regularly, as cattle forced to drink dirty water will not drink enough, which will suppress their appetite and, subsequently, thrive.

“Remember, winter is the most expensive period on most cattle farms. A plan should be put in place now to shorten the winter period by getting cattle out to grass as soon as possible next spring.”