Good calf performance, along with the control of costs, is critical in achieving a positive net margin from the suckler herd according to CAFRE adviser Pat McCambridge.

On average, a continental cross bull calf born on March 1 should achieve a liveweight of 300kg by October 1 and a heifer calf 250kg, he said.

“The most productive time for a calf is the first 200 days.”

McCambridge says after breed type, the main factor affecting growth is the milk production of the cow. He advises farmers to “weigh calves and record liveweight gains around the 200-day stage as this gives a good indication of growth potential and identifies poor performing cows. If you are breeding your own replacements now is the time to identify high growth rate heifer calves from milky, easy calving cows.”

He also noted that “If not already carried out, suckled calves will benefit from a worm drench. Also, by the end of August plan to start your pneumonia vaccination programme. Discuss the programme with your vet.”

Creep feeding suckled calves

According to McCambridge: “The benefits of creep feeding calves pre-weaning are well recognised. For every 4.0kg of meal fed calves will gain 1.0kg liveweight. Suckled calves that are at least 200kg at this stage will benefit most from meal feeding.”

He said: “If possible trough feeding is preferred over ad-lib feeders as meal input can be controlled based on liveweight and sex of calf. By using two adjoining fields with a creep gate between, calves can be creep fed in one of the fields, preferably with a better grass supply, and still have access to the cows.

“Start meal feeding six weeks before weaning and build up to about 1.0 -2.0kg per head per day at weaning. The level will depend on the weight and sex of the calf.”