I’m thinking of weaning spring-born calves, but what do I feed them?

Over the coming weeks, farmers will turn their attention to weaning spring-born calves. This should be done earlier this year to ease feed demand. However, calves under 250kg should not be weaned.

In a normal year, many farmers allow calves to graze ahead of cows on fresh pastures. However, due to little or no grass growth, this option might not be available to farmers this year.

If this option is a viable one, it can be done by using creep gates or lifting temporary wire; this helps to break the bond between cow and calf. Meal should also be fed during the weaning period.

Meal feeding reduces stress on the calf and reduces the demand on the cow’s milk; this also lets the cow dry off easier.

Speaking to AgriLand, Teagasc’s Vivian Silke noted that where feed and grass is of limited supply, 250kg bulls should be able for 4kg/head/day of meal, while heifers could get 3kg/head/day on limited grass.

A fresh supply of water should always be available and farmers should take care not to overfeed weanlings. If there is some grass available, this should be strip grazed and weanlings should be allocated a fresh area everyday.

If farmers have good-quality silage available, meal could be fed at a rate of 2kg/head/day. However, it will take a lot of weanlings to eat one bale and – in this weather – bales will go off quickly.

It really comes down to the farmer’s own situation; meal is probably the best option, but hay could also be fed with meal at 2-2.5kg/head/day.

When weaning calves, keep stress levels to a minimum. Stressed weanlings are much more susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia.

Straw is of limited availability this year. Where straw is normally introduced to the dry cow’s diet, this could be replaced with hay.

Silage could also be used, but – by doing so – farmers are ‘eating’ into next winter’s reserves. These animals are dry so they won’t require a lot of feeding. If needs be, meal could also be introduced here to stretch supplies.

Farmers have many different ways of weaning cows and calves. Whatever the method, keeping stress to a minimum is paramount. Weaning should be carried out in batches where possible and bull and heifer weanlings should be kept separate post-weaning.